Aero L-159 Alca

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L-159 ALCA
Aero L-159 (6063) in flight (1).jpg
Czech Air Force L-159A ALCA
Role Light attack aircraft/ advanced jet trainer
Manufacturer Aero Vodochody
First flight 4 August 1997[1]
Introduction April 2000
Status Operational
Primary users Czech Air Force
Iraqi Air Force
Produced 1997–2003 and 2016–2017[2]
Number built L-159A: 72
Unit cost
US$9.5 million (2015)[3]
Developed from Aero L-59 Super Albatros

The Aero L-159 ALCA[nb 1] is a light subsonic attack jet and advanced trainer developed in the single-seat L-159A and two-seat L-159B versions respectively, produced in the Czech Republic by Aero Vodochody. In 2003, the Czech Air Force fleet of 72 L-159A aircraft was reduced to 24 due to budget constraints. After several years of storage, the government has re-sold most of the redundant aircraft to both military and civilian operators, namely the Iraqi Air Force and Draken International.

The L-159 has seen active combat use by the Iraqi Air Force against ISIS. In Draken's service, the L-159 (colloquially known as "Honey Badger") has been employed as an aggressor aircraft.[4] Since 2007, six L-159A aircraft have been rebuilt into T1 trainer derivatives. In 2017, Aero Vodochody unveiled a newly built L-159T1 for the Iraqi Air Force while the Czech Air Force is set to acquire L-159T2 two-seaters.[5][6]


The first L-159 prototype (5831) in the Prague Aviation Museum

Immediately after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the Czech president Václav Havel declared a demobilisation of the Czech defence industry.[7] Nevertheless, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Czech company Aero Vodochody continued developing the basic L-39 Albatros design with a view toward greater export. The resulting L-39MS, later designed as L-59 Super Albatros, featured a more powerful turbofan engine, advanced avionics, and has been bought in quantity by Egypt and Tunisia.[8] In 1993 a group of Czech military experts launched a project of production of a modern domestic fighter to replace the obsolete Soviet aircraft.[7] Since the proposed Aero L-X supersonic fighter development proved to be financially demanding (up to US$2 billion), the less costly L-159 subsonic attack aircraft was approved for procurement instead.[9]

Conducted between the years 1994 and 1997, the technical development of L-159 ALCA in Aero Vodochody consisted primarily of building one L-159 two-seat prototype based on the L-59 airframe utilizing western engine, avionics and weapon systems,[10] with Rockwell Collins (eventually Boeing) as the avionics integrator.[1] In 1995, the Czech government ordered a fleet of 72 L-159A single-seat aircraft at a cost around 50 billion CZK. The contract was signed on 4 July 1997. The number of aircraft to be delivered was based upon the size of the Czech Air Force at that time, taking into account the necessity to replace MiG-23BN and Su-22 fighter-bombers and Su-25 attack aircraft. Due to the cost of the project, the Czech government decided that a strategic partner, the Boeing Company, would be invited to join with the Aero Vodochody in the venture in May 1998.[11] However, in October 2004, Boeing withdrew from the company and the government announced that the Aero Vodochody was to be privatised. In October 2006, it was sold to Penta Investments.[12]

The maiden flight of the first L-159 prototype (5831, "376 white") occurred on 2 August 1997 with a two-seat version. On 18 August 1998 the single-seat L-159A prototype (5832, "356 white") first flew; it was completed to Czech customer specifications. 10 April 2000 marked the first delivery of L-159A to the Czech Air Force.[1] Prototype (6073) of the two-seat L-159B variant first flew on 1 June 2002.

In 2009, Aero Vodochody selected V-Dot Systems (split off from Boeing) as the L-159 avionics integrator.[citation needed] V-Dot will replace the Honeywell multi-function displays (MFD) and upgrade the mission processors to support new functions.


L-159 cockpit with the original Honeywell 4x4 inch MFDs

The L-159 ALCA is designed for the principal role of light combat aircraft (single-seat L-159A variant) or light attack jet and advanced/lead-in fighter trainer (two-seat L-159B and T variants).[13][14] Design of the L-159 was derived from the L-39/59 in terms of aerodynamic configuration but a number of changes were made to improve its combat capabilities. These include strengthening of the airframe, reinforcing of the cockpit with composite and ceramic ballistic armour and enlargement of the aircraft's nose to accommodate the radar. Compared to the L-59, number of underwing pylons was increased from four to six and a new hardpoint under the fuselage was added instead of GSh-23L cannon.[15]

The aircraft is powered by the non-afterburning Honeywell/ITEC F124-GA-100 turbofan engine with a maximum thrust of 28 kN. Almost 2,000 litres of fuel is stored in eight internal tanks (six in the fuselage, two at the wingtips) with up to four external drop tanks (two 500 L and two 350 L tanks) carried under the wings. The lightly armoured cockpit is equipped with a VS-2B ejection seat capable of catapulting the pilot at a zero flight level and zero speed. The aircraft's avionics based on the MIL-STD-1553 databus include Selex Navigation and Attack Suite, Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (INS) and Global Positioning System (GPS). Flight data are displayed both at the FV-3000 head-up display (HUD) and two multi-function displays (MFD).[13][14][16]

Communications are provided by a pair of Collins ARC-182 transceivers. Self-protection of the L-159 is ensured by the Sky Guardian 200 radar warning receiver (RWR) and the Vinten Vicon 78 Series 455 chaff and flare dispenser.[17] L-159A and T2 variants are equipped with the Italian FIAR Grifo L multi-mode Doppler radar for all-weather, day and night operations. All variants of L-159 are equipped with a total of seven hardpoints (one under-fuselage and six under-wing mountings), capable of carrying external loads up to 2,340 kg. The aircraft can be equipped with a variety of weapons ranging from unguided bombs and rocket pods to air-to-ground and air-to-air guided missiles or with special devices to conduct aerial reconnaissance or electronic warfare. For example, it is capable of carrying advanced targeting pods including the AN/AAQ-28(V) LITENING.[13][14][16]

Operational history[edit]

Czech Air Force L-159A with its armament
PL-20 gun pod

Czech Republic[edit]

The Czech Air Force is the primary operator, receiving the latest avionics upgrades. In 1995, the Czech government ordered 72 aircraft, but after review, opted to reduce the fleet size to 24 with the remaining aircraft to be placed in storage.[2] As of 2016, the Czech Air Force has 16 L-159A and 5 L-159T1 aircraft in service.[18] On 1 June 2016, Aero Vodochody received an order to upgrade an initial batch of 16 L-159 aircraft.[19]


In 2015, Iraq signed a deal for 14 L-159 aircraft (12 L-159As and 2 L-159T1s).[2][20] The first two Czech L-159s were delivered to Iraq on 5 November 2015.[21][22] In May 2016, L-159 aircraft were used by the Iraqi Air Force to attack ISIL positions in Fallujah.[23] In October and November 2016, L-159 aircraft operated by Squadron No 115 were deployed in the battle against the ISIS at the Southern outskirts of Mosul.[24][25]


In 2009, EADS-CASA of Spain exchanged with the CzAF four CASA C-295 for three L-159As, two L-159T1s and 130 million Euros.[26] Later the two L-159T1s were returned by EADS-CASA to the Czech Republic as compensation for the C-295M not meeting the counter measures requirements of the CzAF at the time of delivery.[27] This problem has been solved by EADS-CASA three years later and the remaining three L-159As resold by EADS-CASA to Lewis Fighter Fleet LLC.[28][29]

United States[edit]

Draken International Inc., a civilian U.S. company that cooperates with the US military for the training of American pilots, will buy 21 planes in total.[30][31][32][33] Aero Vodochody handed over the first L-159 aircraft to Draken International on 30 September 2015.[34]

Lewis Fighter Fleet LLC has purchased 3 L-159A aircraft.[35] These aircraft were bought from EADS-CASA in July 2013.[28][29]



The L-159A ALCA is a single-seat light multi-role combat aircraft designed for a variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground and reconnaissance missions. The aircraft is equipped with a multi-mode Doppler Grifo-L radar (a variant of the Grifo-F x-band multi-mode, pulse-doppler radar),[36] for all-weather, day and night operations. It can carry a wide range of NATO standard stores including air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and laser guided bombs. The L-159A is in operational service with the Czech and Iraqi air forces. There are two different configurations being used by the Czech Air Force – using the Honeywell 4x4 inch MFDs or the Vdot 5x6.7 inch MFDs. Avionic upgrades are designed and developed by V-Dot Systems Inc.
The L-159E ALCA is the export designation of L-159A in service with Draken International.[37]
Combat-capable variant first unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow on 16 July 2018. Developed in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries and powered by a Honeywell F124-GA-100 engine. The aircraft is pitched for the U.S. Air Force Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance program.[38][39]


The L-159B, also known as L-159B Albatros II,[40] is a two-seat version primarily designed for Advanced and Operational/Lead-In Fighter Training. The L-159B configuration can also be tailored to customer specific requirements and adapted to needs of basic training as well as combat missions including air-to-ground, patrol and reconnaissance missions. On 23 July 2002, the Czech military signed a letter of intent on acquisition of the first two L-159B aircraft. However, due to the budget constraints the trade did not materialize. The only prototype has been rebuilt by Aero Vodochody into L-159T2X demonstrator. The aircraft's designation was changed on 14 December 2015.[41][42]
The L-159T1 is a two-seat trainer derivative used by the Czech and Iraqi Air Force. All L-159T1s (excluding one newly built L-159T1 for the Iraqi Air Force) are modified L-159A airframes taken from storage. Unlike L-159A, they have just one MFD in each cockpit and no radar. L-159T1 S/N 6069 made its first flight on 8 March 2007 and the first batch of four aircraft was handed over to the Czech Air Force on 23 November 2007. Another two aircraft were delivered in August and December 2010, respectively. L-159T1 S/N 6069 was transferred to Aero Vodochody on 30 June 2015 as a part of the Iraqi contract which included handover of four actively used aircraft – three L-159A and one L-159T1 – to the Iraqi Air Force.[41]
Prototype L-159T1+ S/N 6067 (manufactured as L-159A in 2003 and converted to L-159T1 in 2007) was unveiled by Aero Vodochody in March 2017. L-159T1+ aircraft are characterized by an upgraded mission system, avionics and newly installed Grifo-L radar, offering the same combat capability as the single-seat L-159A.[6][19] The T1+ modernization of 4 Czech Air Force L-159T1 is scheduled to be completed in December 2019.[43]
The L-159T2 is a two-seat trainer with full combat capability converted from stored L-159A airframes. Compared to the L-159T1, it has a higher proportion of newly manufactured components and a Grifo-L radar installed.[41] Instead of mirroring the instruments to the rear seat, the new two-seater will have independent instruments interchangeable with the L-159A while using the same software configuration. The Czech Air Force has ordered 3 L-159T2 aircraft scheduled to be delivered in November 2018.[44][41]


Draken International's L-159E

Military operators[edit]

 Czech Republic
  • Czech Air Force – 16 L-159A and 5 L-159T1 aircraft in service as of August 2016.[18] 3 L-159T2 aircraft on order.[44]
  • Iraqi Air Force – 12 L-159A and 2 L-159T1 aircraft ordered; 6 L-159A and 1 L-159T1 in service as of September 2016.[2]

Civilian operators[edit]

 United States

Evaluation-only operators[edit]


Specifications (L-159A)[edit]

Aero L-159 Alca scheme.jpg

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 2003–2004,[47] Czech military web pages[48][49]

General characteristics



Grifo-L Radar

See also[edit]

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ Acronym for Advanced Light Combat Aircraft. Also known as L-159 Alca.


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External links[edit]