Aero L-39 Albatros

The Aero L-39 Albatros is a high-performance jet trainer aircraft developed in Czechoslovakia to meet requirements for a "C-39" (C for cvicný – trainer) during the 1960s to replace the L-29 Delfín as the main training aircraft. 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.

Aero L-39 Albatros
Class Aircraft
Type Attack
Manufacturer Aero Vodochody
Production Period 1971 - 1999
Origin Czechoslovakia
Country Name Origin Year
Czechoslovakia 1968
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Russia (USSR) 1972 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Aero Vodochody 1971 1999 View

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

The low, slightly swept wing has a double-taper planform, 2½-deg dihedral from the roots, a relatively low aspect ratio, and 100 liter (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 ejection seats are made by Aero.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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).


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).

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.

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.


The Syrian Arab Air Force has a number of armed L-39ZA light attack variants. 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.

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.

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

Civilian use

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. 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).

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

Role Military trainer aircraft
Light ground-attack aircraft
Manufacturer Aero Vodochody
First flight 4 November 1968
Introduction 28 March 1972 with theCzechoslovak Air Force
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-59 Super Albatros
Aero L-159 Alca

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 12.13 m (39 ft 9½ in)
  • Wingspan: 9.46 m (31 ft 0½ in)
  • Height: 4.77 m (15 ft 7¾ in)
  • Wing area: 18.8 m² (202 ft²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 64A012 mod
  • Empty weight: 3,455 kg (7,617 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 4,700 kg (10,362 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Ivchenko AI-25TL turbofan, 16.87 kN (3,792 lbf)


  • 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

End notes