By Philipp Schaer
The Aero L-39C Albatros is a very popular military aircraft. Manufactured by Aero Vodochody in Czech Republic, this high performance jet was the standard military jet trainer in the East block except Poland, which used the strange looking TS-11 Iskra.
The L-39 Albatros comes with a two cockpit configuration, also for the light ground attack variant L-39ZA with a payload of 1290kg.
The light attack version L-39ZA has been spotted in the Syrian Civil War in 2012 when fighting against rebels over Aleppo. Rebels claim they shot down a number of L-39s. The L-39 was also used by Abkhasian separatists to shoot down Georgian drones in 2008 and for ground attack missions by the Azeri Air Force in the Nagorno Karabakh War.
In total, more than 2800 L-39s have been produced, and the L-39 is still in active service with countless air forces. The Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros is very well-known in the former East block countries, less in the west outside the aviation community. But many have seen the aircraft in movies like James Bond “Tomorrow never dies” and “Lord of War” or with Display teams like the Breitling Jet Team, Patriots Jet Team or the Black Diamond Jet Team, formerly known under the very manly name “Heavy Metal Jet Team”.
After the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Eastern block, Air Forces had to fight with rapidly shrinking budgets. It was a very turbulent period with a lack of state control. This led to uncontrolled sales of weapons and other military hardware to new owners, with popular weapon traders like Wiktor But and Karlheinz Schreiber. Among them were countless L-39 sales from Air Forces to Civilians. A successful seller of East Block L-39s was Mr. Peier, a Swiss citizen: “There was a time they sold everything. Especially attractive was doing business in the Ukraine. Give them a freight car full of potatoes and you can choose your L-39 and fly away with it.”
Today there are more than 250 civilian registered L-39s in the US alone. The Reno Air Race even has a category only for the L-39. Apart from the large numbers produced, it is mainly the very nice and sporty shape that makes this military aircraft so popular among display teams and civilian owners. Also, due to the fact that so many L-39s are on the market, prices start as low as US$ 150,000. If you are looking for an Albatros in good condition you will probably have to pay much more. We strongly suggest a meticulous pre-buy inspection and professional help from somebody who knows the L-39. A good choice here is the “Godfather of L-39”, the German Bernd Rehn from Aerocontact.
Also, consider all the operational cost carefully. One of the reasons L-39 prices are currently so low is that many owners realize that the cost to operate the L-39 is high. Many L-39s change ownership often, with the former owner telling the interested buyer how easy and cheap this aircraft is to operate. If you fly a lot to practice and maintain it well, it is not that cheap.
This is one of the main reasons why many L-39s are held in shared and fractional ownership arrangements. Another increasingly popular way to own is financing the L-39 by offering rides to the public. A company specialized in bringing “Mavericks for a Day” and L-39 operators together is FlyFighterJet.com. The advantage with giving rides is that pilot-owners get to fly more often, they can share this unique experience with a very happy and grateful customer and they do not have to share their military trainer with co-owners. FlyFighterJet.com only cooperates with professional Air Force and Navy pilots, hobby pilots with a lack of experience are not chosen to take passengers for a ride. So this second model is not for everyone.
What is needed to get a type rating? Not much actually, at least not in Europe. While the FAA asks for 1000 flight hours, with 500 hours as Pilot-in-Command, European countries like the Czech Republic are not as strict. It is possible to have the L-39 type rating with 10-12 hours, that’s not much. Total cost are around €15,000 in Czech Republic ($19,000 US), including theoretical lessons, all exams etc. The training is with an Aero Vodochody factory test pilot. They are certainly among the best L-39 pilots worldwide, with thousands of flight hours on the L-39 only.
There might be cheaper “cookie-cutter” options available also. But we strongly recommend choosing a professional instructor and practicing a lot when operating an L-39. Also, refresher courses and emergency training should be done regularly.Recent crashes suggest that the L-39 is a more dangerous aircraft than many think after having the training. As long as everything is fine the L-39 is good-natured, but the dangers are often underestimated. Recent incidents show that hobby pilots with a lack of training can lose their head in an emergency situation. And then the L-39 suddenly is a dangerous aircraft.