A Trainer for the World

The global cus­tomers of the L-39 fam­ily

Aviation Classics - - CONTENTS -

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

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