Aero L-39 Albatros

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L-39 Albatros
Aero L-39C Albatros, Czech Republic - Air Force AN1705130.jpg
A Czech Air Force L-39C
Role Military trainer aircraft
Light ground-attack aircraft
Manufacturer Aero Vodochody
First flight 4 November 1968
Introduction 28 March 1972 with the Czechoslovak Air Force[1]
Status 2,800 still in use in various air forces
Primary users Soviet Air Force
Czechoslovak Air Force
Libyan Air Force
Syrian Air Force
Produced 1971–1999
Developed from Aero L-29 Delfín
Variants Aero L-39NG
Developed into Aero L-59 Super Albatros
Aero L-159 Alca

The Aero L-39 Albatros is a high-performance jet trainer aircraft developed in Czechoslovakia to meet requirements for a "C-39" (C for cvičný – trainer) during the 1960s to replace the L-29 Delfín as the main training aircraft.[2] It was the first of the second-generation jet trainers, and the first turbofan-powered trainer produced, and was later updated as the L-59 Super Albatros and as the L-139 (prototype L-39 with Garrett TFE731 engine).

A further development of the design, the L-159 ALCA, began production in 1997. To date, more than 2,800 L-39s have served with over 30 air forces around the world. The Albatros is the most widely used jet trainer in the world; in addition to performing basic and advanced pilot training, it has also flown combat missions in a light-attack role. Atypically, it has never received a NATO reporting name.

At the Farnborough Airshow in July 2014, Aero Vodochody announced the launch of the L-39NG, an upgraded and modernised version of the L-39.

Design and development[edit]

The L-39 (under the name "Prototype X-02" – the second airframe built) first flew on 4 November 1969 and was piloted by Rudolf Duchoň, the factory's test pilot. Serial production began in 1971. The design is Czechoslovak (Czech) – the construction of Aero's chief designer Jan Vlček.

The low-set, straight wing has a double-taper planform, 2½-deg dihedral from the roots, a relatively low aspect ratio, and 100 litre (26½ USgal) fuel tanks permanently attached to the wingtips .[citation needed] The trailing edge has double-slotted trailing edge flaps inboard of mass-balanced ailerons; the flaps are separated from the ailerons by small wing fences.

The tall, swept vertical tail has an inset rudder. Variable-incidence horizontal stabilizers with inset elevators are mounted at the base of the rudder and over the exhaust nozzle. Side-by-side airbrakes are located under the fuselage ahead of the wing's leading edge. Flaps, landing gear, wheel brakes and air brakes are powered by a hydraulic system. Controls are pushrod-actuated and have electrically powered servo tabs on the ailerons and rudder. Operational g-force limits at 4,200 kg (9,260 lb) are +8/-4 g.

A single turbofan engine, an Ivchenko AI-25TL (made in the Soviet Union) is embedded in the fuselage and is fed through shoulder-mounted, semi-circular air intakes (fitted with splitter plates) just behind the cockpit; the engine exhausts below the tailplane. Five rubber bag fuel tanks are located in the fuselage behind the cockpit. The main, trailing-arm landing gear legs retract inward into wing bays; the nose gear retracts forward.

A long, pointed nose made of aluminum leads back to the tandem cockpit, in which the student and instructor sit under individual canopies that are hinged on the right. The rear (instructor's) seat is raised slightly; both VS-1 or VS-2 rocket ejection seats, developed by Jiří Matějček[citation needed], are made locally.[citation needed]

The basic trainer is not armed, but has two underwing pylons for drop tanks and practice weapons. Light-attack variants have four underwing hardpoints for ground attack stores; the ZA also has an underfuselage gun pod.

The L-39 was intended to be replaced by the L-159; however the limited success of the L-159 led Aero to announce at the 2014 Farnborough Airshow that it was developing an upgraded version of the L-39, designated L-39NG, to compete with the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and British Aerospace Hawk. The L-39NG replaces the AI-25 turbofan with a Williams FJ44 engine; the airframe is modified, the wingtip fuel tanks being eliminated, and a new suite of avionics will be provided. First flight is planned during 2016, with deliveries starting in 2018.[3]

Operational history[edit]

Civil L-39 in fictional Soviet 84th Light Strike Squadron markings
An Aero L-39 Albatros of the Breitling Jet Team


In the spring of 2008, a number of Georgian drones were shot down by Abkhazian separatist forces over the Abkhazia region. The Abkhazian separatist forces claimed that one of its missile-equipped L-39s had shot down a Georgian Hermes 450 unmanned reconnaissance drone.[4]


The Taliban air force managed to obtain some five L-39C from the former communist government air force remnants and press some, with foreign help and pilots, into combat during the later part of the 1996-2001 phase of the Afghan civil war against the Northern Alliance. In early 2001, only two were operational.[5][6]


L-39s, along with older L-29s, were used extensively in ground attack missions by Azeri forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Several were shot down by Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army air defences.[7]


The newly de facto independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria found itself with dozens of L-39s (as well as several L-29s, three MiG-17s, two MiG-15UTIs, helicopters and other transport and civilian aircraft) left at Khankala and Kalinovskaya airbases by the Soviet Air Force in 1992. Most of these, however, were reportedly abandoned or not in flyable condition, but during the August–November 1994 conflict between nationalist and pro-Russian forces L-39s were deployed and were possibly one of the few air attack (and possibly recce) elements on Dzhokar Dudayev's forces. At least one was reported as shot-down near Goragorsk on October 4 by a Strela-2 MANPADS fired by Doku Zavgayev's pro-Russian militia. The pilot, Col. Ali Musayev and the co-pilot Dedal Dadayev were killed.[8][9]

One of the main reasons that prompted the first Su-25 air raids that destroyed the Chechen air force on the ground, and started the Russian intervention, were Dudayev's air force preparations (spotted by recce Su-24MRs) and fears that his aircraft could slow or deter the Russian air and ground campaign, as well as the capability of several aircraft to conduct kamikaze attacks on Russian nuclear or power plants (specially by means of the ejection seat in most aircraft, notably the L-39, by stuffing them up with explosives and converting them into improvised cruise missiles).[9]


Libya acquired some 180 L-39ZOs around 1978 which served at Sabha and Okba Ben Nafi flying schools along with Yugoslav-made G-2 Galeb for advanced jet training and Italian-made SF.260s (for primary training).[10]

The L-39s were deployed during the Chadian-Libyan conflict, mainly to Ouadi Doum air base. During the final Chadian offensive in March 1987, the Chadians captured Ouadi Doum along with several aircraft (11 L-39s included) and Soviet SAM systems and tanks. A Chadian report to the UN, reported the aforementioned capture on 11 L-39s and the destruction (or downing) of at least four of them.[11]

In the midst of that conflict, on April 21, 1983 three LARAF Il-76TDs and one C-130 landed at Manaus Airport, Brazil after one of the Il-76s developed some technical problems while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft were then searched by the Brazilian authorities: instead of medical supplies – as quoted in the transport documentation – the crate of the first of 17 L-39s bound for Nicaragua together with arms and parachutes, to support the country's war against US-backed Contras were found. The cargo was impounded for some time before being returned to Libya, while the transports were permitted to return to their country.[12][13]


The Syrian Arab Air Force has a number of armed L-39ZA light attack variants.[14] Since 2012, during the Syrian civil war, L-39s have been routinely deployed against rebel ground forces and a number of aircraft have been shot down by ground fire. They were first used operationally during the Battle of Aleppo, striking rebel-held positions.[15]

Insurgents captured L-39s along with their support equipment after raiding the Al-Jarrah base in February 2013, though it is uncertain if the planes are airworthy.[16]

In October 2014 insurgents destroyed at least one L-39 on the ground at Nayrab Airbase using a TOW missile.[17]

Civilian use[edit]

A civil L-39 at the 2014 Reno Air Races

While newer versions are now replacing older L-39s in service, thousands remain in active service as trainers, and many are finding new homes with private warbird owners all over the world. This is particularly evident in the United States, where their $200,000–$300,000 price puts them in range of moderately wealthy pilots looking for a fast, agile personal jet. Their popularity led to a purely L-39 Jet class at the Reno Air Races, though it has since been expanded to include other, similar aircraft.

In September 2012 there were 255 L-39s registered with the US Federal Aviation Administration and four registered with Transport Canada.[18][19] Several display teams use the L-39 such as the Patriots Jet Team (6 L-39s), the Breitling Jet Team (7 L-39s) and the Black Diamond Jet Team (5 L-39s).[20]

There are also several L-39 available for private jet rides in Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain and the USA.[21] These L-39s are mostly in private hands, but some also belong to government agencies, such as those in Vyazma, Russia.[22]


L-39X-01 – X-07
Five prototypes plus two static test airframes.[23]
L-39C (C for Cvičná – training)
Standard basic trainer for Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and export. Originally designated L-39, but renamed L-39C when later variants appeared. Two pylons under wing. Approximately 2,260 built.[24]
L-39CM (CM for Cvičná modernizovaná – modernised training)
Slovak upgraded C version.
Ukrainian upgraded C version with AI-25TLSh engines. The conversion is carried out by Odesaviaremservis and the first plane was ready in 2009. The upgrade of a further 7 L-39C's was planned.[26] Only six L-39C were converted into L-39M1 by 2014[27]
L-39V (V for Vlečná – tug)
Single-seat target tug version for Czechoslovakia. Equipped to tow KT-04 target on 1,700 m (5,600 ft) cable. Prototype plus eight production aircraft built.[28]
L-39ZO (Z for Zbraně – weapons)
Interim weapon trainer variant for export. Four pylons stressed for 500 kg (1,100 lb) (inboard) and 250 kg (550 lb) (outboard), with total external load of 1,150 kg (2,500 lb).[29] First flew 25 June 1975, with initial deliveries to Iraq in 1977. 337 built.[30]
Significantly upgraded L-39ZO for armed training and light attack, employing sturdier landing gear, a higher payload (total 1,290 kg (2,844 lb))[29] and notably provision for a GSh-23L 23-millimeter twin-barreled cannon attached in a conformal pod under the pilots' compartment, having a 150-round magazine within the airframe. Outer pylons wired to carry K-13 or R-60 air-to-air missiles. Two prototypes, with first flying on 29 September 1976. 208 aircraft delivered.[31]
Slovak upgraded ZA version.
Thai version of L-39ZA with Elbit avionics. 40 built.[32]
The Aero L-39MS is a second generation military trainer aircraft developed from the firm's earlier L-39. Compared to its predecessor, it featured a strengthened fuselage, longer nose, a vastly updated cockpit, and a more powerful (21.6 kN (4,850 lbf)) Lotarev DV-2 engine, allowing operation at higher weights and speeds (max speed 872 km/h (542 mph)).[33] First flight on 30 September 1986. It was later designated as the Aero L-59 .[34]
L-139 Albatros 2000
Revised version with western avionics and 17.99 kN (4,045 lbf) Garrett TFE731-4-1T engine. Single prototype built.[35]
Further modernised advanced trainer/combat aircraft with more modern, western avionics and Honeywell F124 engine.[36]
Modernised and upgraded version with Williams FJ44 engine, improved fuel system and avionics, planned to be introduced in 2018.[37]


An Estonian L-39 in flight
A civil L-39C Albatros in Australia
A Slovak L-39ZA (1701) in Biele Albatrosy colors at Radom Air Show 2005
L-39C in civil use
L-39ZO On display at Technik Museum Speyer hotel

Notable incidents[edit]

  • 26 September 1986 Mihai Smighelschi, a 21-year-old student of the Romanian Air Force Academy, used an L-39ZA Albatros training plane to fly to Turkey and request political asylum. His aircraft was later recovered and onboard data recorders showed that he had flown no higher than 150 m (490 ft) above ground at 700 km/h (430 mph) to evade radar detection. Smighelschi had less than 100 hours at the time, including high-school glider training, and less than 3 hours on the L-39ZA. Without satellite navigation or indeed any maps, he navigated a straight line over Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey using only ground marks and the memory of a map of Europe he had access to at the Academy. He eventually landed in Kirklareli, Turkey, on a street near a group of jeeps that seemed to have American insignia, breaking the front wheel and the nose of the plane.[39]
  • 24 January 2001 Atlas Air Founder, Chairman, and CEO Michael A. Chowdry was killed when his Czech L-39 jet trainer crashed into an open field near Watkins, Colorado, USA. Also killed was Wall Street Journal aerospace reporter Jeff Cole. Chowdry and Cole were making a planned flight from Front Range Airport.[40][41]
  • 12 September 2015 Jay "Flash" Gordon, a long-time air show performer and perennial favorite at Thunder Over Louisville, perished when his privately owned L-39 crashed during the Wings Over Big South Fork Air Show in Oneida, Tennessee.[42]
  • 6 December 2015 An L-39 crashed on take-off and burned at Apple Valley Airport, California, killing pilot Mike Mangold and his passenger.[43]

Specifications (L-39C)[edit]

Orthographically projected diagram of the Aero L-39 Albatros.
Bulgarian Air Force Aero L-39 Albatros

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1988–89 [29]

General characteristics


  • Never exceed speed: Mach 0.80 (609 mph, 980 km/h)
  • Maximum speed: 750 km/h (405 knots, 466 mph) at 5,000 m (16,400 ft)
  • Range: 1,100 km (593 nmi, 683 mi) (internal fuel)
    • 1,750 km, (944 nmi, 1,087 mi) (internal and external fuel)
  • Endurance: 2 hr 30 min (internal fuel), 3 hr 50 min (internal and external fuel)
  • Service ceiling: 11,000 m (36,100 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 21 m/s (4,130 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 250.0 kg/m² (51.3 lb/ft²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.37
  • Climb to 5,000 m (16,400 ft): 5 min
  • Take-off roll: 530 m (1,740 ft)
  • Landing roll: 650 m (2,140 ft)


  • Up to 284 kg (626 lb) of stores on two external hardpoints

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ John Pike. "Aero L-39 Albatros". Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  2. ^ Jackson, Robert (2011). Aircraft from 1914 to the present day. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-907446-02-3. 
  3. ^ "Aero Vodochody Relaunching L-39". Aviation Week & Space Technology (New York: Penton Media) 176 (27): 10. August 4, 2014. ISSN 0005-2175. 
  4. ^ "The Georgian Times on the Web". Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  5. ^ Cooper, Tom; Troung; Koelich, Marc (10 February 2008). "Afghanistan, 1979–2001; Part 2". ACIG. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment, 2001
  7. ^ "Air War over Nagorniy-Kharabakh, 1988–1994". Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  8. ^ "Chechenya - Air force in local wars -". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Thomas, Timothy L., Air Operations in Low Intensity Conflict-The Case of Chechnya, retrieved 1 January 2015
  10. ^ "Libya". Retrieved 2013-03-29. 
  11. ^ "Libyan Wars, 1980–1989, Part 6". Retrieved 2013-03-29. 
  12. ^ Cooper, Tom (1 September 2003). "Central and Latin America Database: Nicaragua 1980–1988". Air Combat Information Group. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  13. ^ "The Hour - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  14. ^ "Syrian government using L-39 trainer jets to attack rebels — Air Cache". 2012-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  15. ^ "24 7 Aleppo أوغاريت حلب , هااااااااااااااااااام جدا , لحظة سقوط الصاروخ من طائرة الميغ". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  16. ^ "Syria – FSA Capture Al-Jarrah Military Air Port (Feb 2013)". YouTube. 2013-02-12. Retrieved 2013-03-08. 
  17. ^ "L-39 Albatros Destroyed on Nayrab Airbase by TOW-2". LiveLeak. 2014-10-22. Retrieved 2014-10-23. 
  18. ^ Federal Aviation Administration (30 September 2012). "Make / Model Inquiry Results". Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  19. ^ Transport Canada (30 September 2012). "Canadian Civil Aircraft Register". Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  20. ^ "Black Diamond Jet Team Performance". Retrieved 2012-07-12. 
  21. ^ "Aero L-39 Albatros - Ground Attack Aircraft, Surveillance-Jet and East-Block Jet Trainer:". MiGFlug - Jet Fighter Flights in Supersonic Military Fighter Aircraft. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  22. ^ "L-39 squadron Russ based in Vyazma – Official Website of Rus' L-39 Squadron / Flight School based at Vyazemskiy Aviacenter, Vyazma / Vjazma, Smolensk, Russia – Welcome – History of the Squadron". Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  23. ^ Lake 2000, p.122.
  24. ^ Lake 2000, pp.123—124.
  25. ^ "Issue 09/10". 2011-09-13. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  26. ^ [1][dead link]
  27. ^ Виктор Морозов. Авиация в боевых действиях на Юго-востоке Украины, весна - лето 2014 // "Авиация и космонавтика", № 10, 2014. стр.34-42
  28. ^ Lake 2000, p.124.
  29. ^ a b c Taylor 1988, pp.47—48.
  30. ^ Lake 2000, p.125.
  31. ^ Lake 2000, pp.126—127.
  32. ^ Lake 2000, p.127.
  33. ^ Lake 2000, p.118.
  34. ^ Lake 2000, p.128.
  35. ^ Lake 2000, p.129.
  36. ^ Lake 2000, pp.130—131.
  37. ^ Vrublová, Tereza. "Aero Vodochody introduces the L-39NG: the next generation of the legendary jet trainer". L-39NG Next Generation. Aero Vodochody. Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  38. ^ "Flying Flying - Scramble". Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  39. ^ "Fuga din tara a elevului pilot Mihai Smighelschi cu avionul L-39 Albatros (continuare) – Pilot Magazin". 2011-04-22. Retrieved 2011-12-29. 
  40. ^ "Atlas Air CEO Chowdry killed in crash.(Michael A. Chowdry killed in jet trainer crash)(Brief Article)". Air Transport World. [dead link]
  41. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (2002). DEN01FA044 "NTSB Identification: DEN01FA044" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 1 January 2015. 
  42. ^ "Thunder Over Louisville pilot killed in Tennessee air show". WDRB-TV Louisville. 2015-09-12. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  43. ^ "Red Bull Pilot Killed In L-39 Crash". Retrieved 7 December 2015. 


  • Lake, Jon (2000). "Aero L-39 Albatros Family: Variant Briefing". World Air Power Journal (London: Aerospace Publishing) 43: 116–131. ISBN 1-86184-055-1. 
  • Taylor, John W.R. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1988–89. Coulsdon, UK:Jane's Defence Data, 1988. ISBN 0-7106-0867-5.
  • Mladějovský, Josef (1988). Nebe pro Albatros: kapitoly o inženýru Janu Vlčkovi, českém leteckém konstruktéru [Sky for the Albatros: The Chapters About ing. Jan Vlček, Czech Aircraft Constructor] (in Czech). Praha: Naše vojsko. 

External links[edit]