The Shark from Prague

The Shark from Prague

Aviation Classics - - CONTENTS - Tim

This has been a fas­ci­nat­ing and ex­tra­or­di­nary story to tell, all the more re­mark­able be­cause of the history of the Czech Re­pub­lic. The fact that Aero Vodochody is one of the old­est con­tigu­ous air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ers in Europe was no sur­prise, but what was is how lit­tle I re­ally knew about them. What has be­come clear in the course of re­search­ing and writ­ing this is­sue is that while Czech in­dus­try has been rightly famed for en­gi­neer­ing ex­cel­lence since the 19th cen­tury, the air­craft that Aero pro­duced over the last 96 years are the very em­bod­i­ment of that rep­u­ta­tion. What makes their story so fas­ci­nat­ing is the re­mark­able peo­ple in­volved, be­gin­ning in 1919 with the first di­rec­tor, Jan Kouril,ˇ and first de­signer, An­tonín Vlasák, who were re­spon­si­ble for the Aero Ae-01 and the com­pany’s first suc­cess. When Dr Vladimír Kabesˇ took over in 1921, he brought the tal­ented but ex­plo­sive An­tonín Hus­ník in as co-chief de­signer. Hus­ník wrote the busi­ness philoso­phies that were to con­tinue Aero’s suc­cess, keep­ing them sol­vent de­spite the global de­pres­sion which closed many other air­craft com­pa­nies. The en­light­ened so­cial poli­cies they in­tro­duced meant Aero did not suf­fer a sin­gle strike, ev­i­dence of the re­spect in which the work­force was held by the com­pany. Aero’s rep­u­ta­tion as a great em­ployer con­tin­ues to this day, as fine an achieve­ment as the air­craft it pro­duces. The Ger­man in­va­sion in 1939 and the Com­mu­nist Party takeover in 1948 saw Aero forced to pro­duce other com­pa­nies’ air­craft as an oc­cu­pied and then state owned de­sign bureau. How­ever, that cre­ative spark, that in­di­vid­ual flair that em­bod­ied Aero’s air­craft re­fused to be ex­tin­guished. In 1947 Aero pro­duced the el­e­gant Ae-45, then in the mid-1950s de­vel­oped the first of the most suc­cess­ful fam­ily of jet train­ers in avi­a­tion history, the L-29 Delfin. The L-29’s later vari­ants were de­vel­oped by Jan Vl­cek,ˇ who in 1964 also led the de­sign of the re­mark­able L-39 Al­ba­tros. The el­e­gant lit­tle shark of a trainer is still in ser­vice all over the world and is about to re­turn to pro­duc­tion in a new and highly ca­pa­ble guise. The Aero L-39NG cap­tures the spirit that has epit­o­mized the history of Aero, it is a bold and in­no­va­tive re­sponse to cur­rent mil­i­tary train­ing needs, yet it is soundly based on proven and re­li­able en­gi­neer­ing. Max­i­mum ef­fec­tive­ness for min­i­mum risk could al­most be the motto of Aero through­out its history, a phi­los­o­phy which has pro­duced what I be­lieve will be the fu­ture of mil­i­tary train­ing for coun­tries around the world. The L-39NG is the most af­ford­able, adapt­able and cost ef­fec­tive trainer in the mar­ket to­day and rep­re­sents a long and bright fu­ture for this rep­utable man­u­fac­turer and its part­ners. As I said ear­lier, it is the peo­ple be­hind the com­pany that make Aero so spe­cial. This is still true to­day as I dis­cov­ered when I was for­tu­nate enough to meet them at the Farn­bor­ough Air ˇ Show then spend a week at the Vodochody com­plex. From the CEO, Ladislav Simek, to the ladies and gen­tle­men I met work­ing in the assem­bly build­ings, I re­ceived a warm and open welcome, so telling the story of this com­pany has be­come a great per­sonal plea­sure. There are also many peo­ple to thank for their time and pa­tience in care­fully ex­plain­ing the past and fu­ture of the com­pany and its air­craft. Petr Ku­drna, Martin Ma­mula, Michal Kaprálek, Milosˇ Trnobran­ský and Jaromir Lang are all busy di­rec­tors, heads of de­part­ments or se­nior man­agers, yet all gave me time to talk in de­tail about their roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The test pilots Miroslav Schützner, Vladimir Kvarda and David Ja­hoda talked pas­sion­ately about their fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, enough to fill a book on their own! Aside from his lead­ing role in an­a­lyt­ics at Aero, Pavel Kuceraˇ is a his­to­rian af­ter my own heart, ded­i­cated to ac­cu­racy and un­be­liev­ably gen­er­ous with his time and knowl­edge. Much of this is­sue was ex­trap­o­lated from his history of the com­pany, and I can­not thank him enough. Like­wise, the ir­re­press­ible Jakub Fo­jtík is not only the head of the busi­ness depart­ment in D&MRO, but the au­thor of many books and en­cy­clopae­dias on avi­a­tion. Again, he is the gen­er­ous source of much of the in­for­ma­tion and many pho­to­graphs con­tained in these pages. Fi­nally, ˇ ˇ ˇ my sin­cer­est thanks have to go to Petr ehorr, the di­rec­tor of strat­egy, and Tomás Cícha, the mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist, who not only or­gan­ised my en­tire visit, but shared their deep en­thu­si­asm and ideas about the com­pany and this pub­li­ca­tion. This is­sue is a true team ef­fort, and if you will for­give me man­gling your in­cred­i­bly ˇ ˇ com­pli­cated lan­guage, dekuji ti, moji prátelé! All best,

BE­LOW: The long nose and the raised rear cock­pit of the L-39 gives the air­craft a slen­der, slip­pery look, fast and ag­ile like a shark. Jakub Fo­jtík

ABOVE: Spencer Trick­ett’s inim­itable view of the L-39 cap­tures the slick yet pug­na­cious lines of the L-39 to per­fec­tion, in this case an East Ger­man Air Force L-39V tar­get tug. Spencer Trick­ett

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