Aircraft on display
The legend lives on in no uncertain terms. Both the L-39 and its predecessor, the L-29, are to be found on display around the world where they are popular exhibits; part of the aviation heritage of an amazing number of countries.
It has been a fascinating journey detailing the history of the Aero company and its two most famous aircraft, but the story had one last surprise for me, and one I had not considered until it came to compiling this list. Considering the thousands of L-29s and L-39s built, there are not that many preserved in museums as a percentage of the number built. Then it struck me. Of course there aren’t, people are still flying them! The L-29, being older, appears in more museums than its sleeker younger brother, but the fact of the matter is that both types are still either in service in their original role or have become private aircraft, the L-39 being the most popular ex-military private jet of our time. Both aircraft have become successful air racers and air display aircraft, either with aerobatic teams or as solo displays, but always turning heads wherever they appear. This is particularly true of the L-39 with its sleek and elegant lines, it simply does not look like a trainer and its appeal to the fighter pilot in all of us is universal. If you look at other types of the period, the British Jet Provost and the American Cessna T-37 for example, they do look like what they are, trainers, and I think it is one of the factors behind the L-39’s success in the civil world that it does not. As was mentioned earlier, whatever you do in an L-39, you do look really good doing it. Three other factors have added to the civilian success story of the L-39. First is its handling, both in the air and on the ground. It is a joy to fly, talk to anyone who has flown one and you will soon be involved a blur of waving hands and sparkling eyes as the ‘there I was…’ stories are retold. It is also a pleasure to work on, the ease of access to the airframe and its systems and the well designed layout have endeared the L-39 to engineers as well as pilots. The second factor is its reliability. L-39s from the first production batch are still flying today, and with the upgrade to the new Williams FJ44 engine being offered to civil owners as well as the military, these tough, rugged aircraft are likely to be flying for several more decades. The last factor has to be the level of support from the manufacturer, from Aero itself. Civil owners from around the world have had their aircraft overhauled, upgraded and re-equipped by the people who know their aircraft best, the folk who built them in the first place. Technical and training manuals are now available in many languages and Aero’s support for the L-39 is truly global in nature. Given the undoubted success of the L-39NG programme, this level of support for existing L-39 owners is going to continue for many more years, which gives customers confidence in the long term availability of spares and support, vital factors to operators in choosing a jet aircraft.
Suffice to say, the practical upshot of all this success and support is that well over a third of all L-39s built are still flying somewhere in the world, with many military aircraft in storage, being cycled through the in-service fleet or waiting for the budget to upgrade them. Consequently, there are not that many left to display in museums. As usual in compiling this list, we are aware that the aircraft move to new homes or new owners, and sometimes it takes a while for the information to disseminate. This is especially true in this case as many of the aircraft are still airworthy; we actually found one L-39 in the US that had three different homes in one year! On the subject of the US listings, the registrations of the 307 privately owned L-39s have been covered in the article on page 62. Listed here are only those we are certain are in museums or are listed as belonging to one. If you know of any that have moved, or even better, new aircraft that do not yet appear here, then please let us know and we will publish the information in the updates section of our website.
ABOVE: The Kbely museum also has the nose of the development aircraft for the L-39M, which became the L-39MS and later the L-59. Editor
ABOVE: Immediately below L-29 0010 is the L-39 X-05 prototype aircraft, 3905. The Prague Aeronautical Museum at Kbely boasts a remarkably complete selection of Aero aircraft. Editor
ABOVE: The latest addition to the L-39 story at Kbely is the first prototype of the L-159 to fly, 5831. Editor LEFT: One of the earliest Aero L-29s preserved is 0010, seen here on display in the excellent Prague Aeronautical Museum at Kbely. Note the original position for the landing light. Editor
ABOVE: Also in storage at Kbely is the third L-39 prototype, X-03 or OK-182, which was used for testing the ejection seats amongst other trials. Jakub Fojtík