in Defence / Features

The 39's steps...

Posted 27 February 2018 · Add Comment

The Aero L-39 Albatros high-performance jet trainer was created in Czechoslovakia by Aero Vodochody in the 1960s. Alan Warnes looks at how the aircraft is still being used throughout Africa.

Of the 3,600 L-39/L-59ss sold worldwide, just over 400 different L-39 Albatros aircraft have been delivered to Africa, most from the mid-80s onwards.
The last brand new aircraft delivered there were not L-39s, but the more advanced L-59.
The company started to develop a newer fourth-generation trainer – the L-59 Super Albatros – from the original L-39 Albatros in the early-90s. It came with a new integrated weapons delivery and navigation system (WDNS) supplied by US-based Flight Visions.
Having been designed with a slightly different architecture and being heavier than the L-39, the new jet needed more thrust, which led to the 1,680kg Ivchenko AI-25 powerplant being replaced by the 2,100kg Lotarev DV-2.
Aero eventually sold 60 L-59s, with both customers from Africa – 12 L-59Ts went to Tunisia in 1995 and 48 L-59Es to Egypt in 1994/5. These were the last L-39/-59s to be built before the L-159 started rolling off the production line.
The Egyptian aircraft utilised eastern ammunitions, while the Tunisians were designed to use western weapons, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Egypt was keen for a new lead-in-fighter trainer for its F-16 and Mirage 2000 fleet and purchased a large number of L-59Es. Unfortunately, its 48 jets were grounded in or around 1999, due to alleged engine issues. They have remained stored ever since.
Tunisia’s 12 L-59Ts, which were ordered in 1994, are used for advanced pilot training and weapons training, although they are also used as armed patrol aircraft. They fulfilled this role during the Libyan revolution in 2011 and have also been involved in reconnaissance, counter-insurgency and air support missions for Tunisian ground forces.
During 2014-16, six Tunisian aircraft were overhauled at Aero Vodochody. Milos Trnobransky, Aero’s head of engineering said: “They were put through standard general overhaul; there was no mid-life update. Each overhaul took about 10-11 months.”
More L-39s were sold to African nations after the L-59 deals, but they came from surplus stock. Algeria took delivery of 17 L-39ZAs between 2002-04, but these were originally destined for Nigeria, while Yemen purchased 12 L-39Cs in 2001 that were originally ordered by the USSR in 1999/2000 but never acquired in the wake of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution.
When Algeria took the delivery of the 17 new aircraft, the country had about seven existing L-39Cs, and 32 L-39ZA-1s, which had Russian avionics. The newer L-39ZAs were the -4 variant, which boasted the same fuselage and systems but western avionics.
In 2013, Aero signed a contract to overhaul the 15 surviving L-39ZA-4s, as well as two L-39Cs.
Aero’s support of the Algerian Air Force L-39 fleet is a prime example of how it has improved its customer support in recent years. Pavel Sedlacek, Algeria project manager said: “We have a follow-on service and support (FOSS) contract for delivery of spare parts and services in Algeria. We have also sent technical staff to Tafraoui to extend the service life of the 14 L-39ZA-1s of 30+ delivered. Two ZA-1s will also be upgraded next year with western avionics.”
Libya was easily the biggest customer of the L-39, although Colonel Gaddafi liked to donate them to other allied forces whenever he could. In the wake of the Libyan war, most Libyan Air Force L-39s have been split between the two warring factions, although most are grounded.
Aero is also discussing with Nigeria how it can provide after-service support of its fleet of around 19 L-39s, although at the moment there is only a handful currently airworthy.
Several other air forces in Africa continue with the L-39. Angola has about six L-39Cs operational; Ethiopia has around 30 with only half operational; Uganda about six operational of its 14 L-39ZA/ZOs.
Several other countries have operated the Albatros, but the majority are all grounded.
 

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