A Trainer for the World
The global customers of the L-39 family
The list of customers for the L-39 and its developments is a fascinating and complex one, spanning every continent on earth. Aside from those countries that purchased the aircraft directly from Aero, there have also been countries that began operating the aircraft under different circumstances, especially in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
ABKHAZIA Formerly part of Georgia, in the summer of 1992 the regional government of Abkhazia declared independence, in response to which Georgia despatched government troops. Fighting was to continue for the next year, Abkhazia being supported by a number of factions within the Caucasus region, including Chechnya, which donated four L-39C.1S to Abkhazia, disassembling them and bringing them into the country by road. By the time the fighting ended in late 1993, the L-39s had flown over 400 hours, mostly on reconnaissance and patrol sorties. The aircraft were occasionally used in groundattack missions near the cities of Sukhumi and Abkhazian Ocamciraˇ ˇ armed with 110lb (50kg) bombs and 57mm S-5 unguided rockets. The L-39s retained their original Soviet markings until two years after the fighting ended, when they were repainted with Abkhazian Air Force insignia. Russia supplied the country with two more L-39C.1S as part of its support for and recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state. At least two of the L-39s in Abkhazian service have been locally modified to carry the Vympel R-60 infrared guided air-to-air missile and in 2008 it was reported that an L-39 had shot down a Georgian Hermes 450 reconnaissance UAV using S-5 rockets. Today, the two surviving Abkhazian L-39s are based near the capital city of Sukhumi. AFGHANISTAN The Soviet Union sought to strengthen ties with Afghanistan and build up the Afghani Air Force, making it the third export customer for Aero and the L-39. In 1976, 12 L-39C.4S were ordered to supply the Soviet 393 Training Regiment which was to train not only Afghani but also Uzbeki and Turkmenistani pilots of the Soviet Air Force. The 12 aircraft undertook a 3133 mile (5042km) delivery flight in company with an Antonov An-24 transport between September 23 and October 2, 1977, arriving in Mazari Sharif after 12 hours and 15 minutes flight time. The first group of students completed their training in August 1979, eventually going on to fly the MIG-17 prior to the final type, the MIG-21. Prior to this, the communist coup d’etat in April 1978 meant the L-39s were pulled off training and used in ground-attack missions against Mujahedin forces using S-5 rockets and FAB-100 bombs. The aircraft were often flown by Soviet crews, one of the common
missions in the early 1980s being patrols around Kabul airport. The training effort to increase the Afghani Air Force was stepped up in the wake of the revolution, six more L-39C.4S being delivered in 1981 and eight L-39C.1S in 1984 via the USSR. After two Afghani crews defected to the rebel forces and two more to the Uzbek Republic, the training and combat missions over Afghanistan continued, usually under the supervision of a Soviet instructor, at least two aircraft being lost in the fighting. By 1988, eight L-39s were still training Afghan pilots, one of whom was Abdulahad Momand, who was to become famous as Afghanistan’s first astronaut, flying a Soyuz mission to the Mir Space Station in August 1988. During the 1990s the country was divided between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, at least five of the L-39s being captured by the latter from the 10 that were still in the country. Both sides tried to use them in combat, but trained engineers and spares were scarce so serviceability was very low. By the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, only five L-39s remained at Mazari Sharif from the original fleet. These were 005, 0002, 0003, 0021 and 0023, which became the foundation of the Afghan Air Force Fixed Wing Unit, operating under the command of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. The aircraft did fly occasionally for a few years but since 2009 have been seen parked at Kabul. The only other L-39C in the country is 0017, which is on display at the OMAR Mine Museum neat Kabul Airport along with other military types. ALGERIA Up until the mid-1980s the Algerian Air Force had only a limited training capability, sending its students to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Egypt and the USSR to train. The modernisation programme that saw Algeria re-equip with the MIG-23, MIG-25 and Su-24 also recognised the need for a comprehensive domestic training programme, so the Zlin Z-142 and L-39ZA were ordered to establish this, with deliveries of the first 10 aircraft beginning in 1987. In order to fly to Algeria directly, the aircraft had to be given civil registrations, in this case OK-SXM to SXV and were followed by 10 more, OK-TXA to TXJ, in 1988, arriving at the training wing base at Tafraoui near Oran. The training package included TL-39 simulators and ejection seat trainers, supplied to the 618th Training Squadron of the 8th Training Wing, where many of the instructors had been trained in other countries and were familiar with the equipment. The success of the L-39 programme led to a repeat order for 12 more aircraft which were delivered in late 1990. Due to difficulties in the former Soviet Union, Aero also offered Algeria seven L-39C.1S not delivered to the USSR, the last of which was delivered in 1991. Before they were handed over, the seven aircraft were all modified to match the avionics standard of the L-39ZAS already in service, again being delivered to the training wing at Tafraoui. Interestingly, the changing political climate meant these aircraft did not require the civil registration of earlier deliveries. Some of the L-39ZAS were later transferred to the 620th
BELOW: Chechnya donated four L-39C.1S to Abkhazia, bringing them into the country by road. via Jakub Fojtík
ABOVE: The Abkhazian L-39s flew over 400 hours in 1992 and 1993, mostly on reconnaissance and patrol sorties during the fighting in the breakaway state. via Jakub Fojtík RIGHT: In 1976, 12 L-39C.4S were ordered by the Soviet Union for Afghanistan to build up the Afghani Air Force. Pavel Kucˇera