L-159 ALCA History
Czechoslovakia was the primary manufacturer of training aircraft for the USSR and its allies during the Cold War. The L-29 and L-39 jet trainers from the country were very successful and operated for many years. The L-39 Albatross was designed in the late 1960s and continues to serve many air forces today, including Russia's air force until the Yak-130 has replaced it. Many L-29 and L-39 jets have entered the civilian market and are flown at air shows all over the world, including in the US.
After the Cold War, Czechoslovakia was divided. The Czech Republic inherited the manufacturers LET, Zlin and Aero Vodochody. Aero had build some 3,900 L-29 Delfin and 2,900 L-39 Albatross jet trainers, as well as building some 3,700 MiGs (MiG-15/17/21). It continued its L-39 production and developed the design into the L-59 Super Albatross (designated L-39MS by the Czech Air Force) with a more powerful DV-2 engine and better avionics and also into the westernized but commercially unsuccessful L-139 jet trainer prior to the L-159 program.
The Czech Republic aimed to join NATO and replace its ageing fleet of Soviet MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-22 and Su-25 aircraft. Its strategy was to procure two types of aircraft for a low and high end mix. For the low end mix the potential and experience of Aero Vodochody was used to develop a NATO-compatible Light Combat Aircraft. The Czech government signed a contract with Aero on April 11, 1995, to fund 25% of the development cost and stated a requirement for 72 aircraft.
Aero Vodochody had already initiated studies to improve its L-59 back in 1992 and developed the L-139. However the CzAF needed a light combat aircraft, not a trainer. The company had to offer an affordable solution as the Czech financial position was weak. Therefore the L-59 was selected as design base for the Advanced Light Combat Aircraft.
The first prototype (L-159T serial 5831) was rolled out on June 12, 1997, two years after developed had started. The first flight took place on August 2, 1997, flown by Aero's chief test pilot Miroslav Schutzner. In the month before the first flight of the new aircraft, the Czech government had signed the contract for 72 L-159A single-seat aircraft to be delivered between 1999 and 2002. One year after 5831's first flight, the second prototype (L-159A serial 5832) made its first flight on August 18, 1998. Again flow by Schutzner, it was the first single-seat aircraft to fly with the space of the rear cockpit being occupied by test equipment. In 2002, the third L-159 protype performed its maiden flight on June 1. Designated L-159B, '6073' was a two-seat version designed for advanced training and operational conversion. Aero Vodochody anticipated that the two-seat lead-in fighter with weapons training capability, coupled with a training package including a full mission simulator would help selling the L-159 abroad.
First prototype '5831' continued flying until 2003. It accumulated more than 840 flight hours. It is still used for development work on the ground. The second prototype '5832' accumulated 1,000 flight hours and is now used for studies into long-term storage in support of the storage of the surplus L-159As. The two-seat L-159B prototype is still being used by the company for demonstration flights as well as development tests.
The final and most recent development of the L-159, is the conversion of surplus L-159A aircraft to two-seat L-159T1 trainers. The Czech Air Force needed the two-seat version for training in stages where the simulator cannot substitute the real aircraft, before the pilots can fly the L-159A solo. The Czech MoD signed a contract for four conversions on June 26, 2006. Two days later the first L-159A arrived at Aero's plant, serialled 6069 it is one from the 24 at Çáslav AB. It was completed in early 2007 and made its first flight on March 8, 2007. The three others converted to L-159T1 are 6067, 6071 and 6072. All four L-159T1 were officially accepted back into service on November 23, 2007.
In July 1997, the contract was signed for 72 L-159A single-seat aircraft. Five aircraft would be delivered in 1999, 16 in 2000, 26 in 2001 and the last 25 would be delivered in 2002. However, the first L-159A did not enter service until late 2000, when the first L-159A arrived at Çáslav AB on December 27, 2000. It was the first of 36 aircraft to join the CzAF 42 Fighter Squadron (FS), later re-designated 212 FS. Namesti nad Oslavou AB received its first two aircraft on May 20, 2001 but never received its full complement because of budget cuts. Çáslav based 212 FS became the sole L-159A unit, retaining just 18 aircraft for operational duties, with six in reserve.
Reportedly due to pilot error, one aircraft was lost during weapons trials of the podded 20mm cannon at the Jince test range in the Czech Republic on February 24, 2003. Captain Petr Vašíčk one of the most experienced pilots with 270 hours on the L-159A was unable to eject. This leaves 47 L-159A in storage, since the four to be converted to L-159T1 are coming from the 212 FS. The first L-159T1 is expected to enter service soon, the CzAF will first carry out the neccessary checks and test from August 27 till September 7, 2007, before accepting the aircraft.
The CzAF L-159s have taken part in numerous NATO exercises. The first exercise was Clean Hunter 2002, held in Germany. Following international exercises were the NATO Air Meet in Turkey, Clean Hunter, Flying Rhino, various other multi-national exercises and the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP).
Historical Events Timeline
|1990-2000 BACK TO TOP|
|1992||Aero Vodochody initiates studies for further improvement of the L-59.|
|11 Apr 1995||Czech government commits to high-low fighter mix and funding for 25% of the development costs for the Advanced Light Combat Aircraft.|
|12 June 1997||Aero Vodochody rolls out first L-159 prototype.|
|July 1997||Czech MoD signs order for 72 L-159A single-seat aircraft.|
|2 Aug 1997||L-159T two-seat prototype '5831' first flight, flown by Miroslav Schutzner.|
|Feb 1998||Venezuela evaluates and test flies L-159.|
|June 1998||South Africa evaluates L-159.|
|18 Aug 1998||L-159A single-seat prototype '5832' first flight, flown by Miroslav Schutzner.|
|2000-2010 BACK TO TOP|
|27 Dec 2000||First production L-159A arrives at Çáslav AB, entering service with 42 FS (212 FS)|
|20 May 2001||Namesti nad Oslavou AB received first two aircraft.|
|1 June 2002||L-159B two-seat prototype first flight.|
|2002||Defence cuts result in 212 FS becoming sole L-159 unit, with 18 aircraft and six in reserve|
|24 Feb 2003||First L-159A is lost in crash at Jince test range, killing Captain Petr Vašíčk.|
|26 June 2006||Czech MoD awards Aero Vodochody a contract to convert four single-seat L-159As to two-seat L-159T1.|
|28 June 2006||First L-159A '6069' is handed over to Aero Vodochody for conversion into L-159T1.|
|Oct 2006||L-159BAT offered to the Hellenic Air Force at Defendory International 2006.|
|21 Nov 2006||L-159 offered to Indonesia as training aircraft.|
|8 Dec 2006||CzAF surplus L-159 offered to Nigeria as Alpha Jet replacement.|
|29 Jan 2007||First L-159T1 conversion '6069' is rolled out.|
|8 Mar 2007||First L-159T1 conversion '6069' makes its maiden flight.|
|26 Mar 2007||Nigeria negotiates possible L-159 purchase.|
|May 2007||CzAF surplus L-159 offered to Georgia.|
|June 2007||Bolivia inspects L-159 and expresses interest.|
|3 Aug 2007||Supplementary Type Certificate (DTO-0003) for the L-159T1 obtained.|
|6 Aug 2007||Second L-159T1 conversion '6067' makes first flight.|
|27 Aug 2007||Czech Air Force starts acceptance tests and checks of the L-159T1.|
|28 Aug 2007||Third L-159T1 conversion '6071' makes first flight.|
|26 June 2007||Czech MoD contracts Aero Vodochody to convert four single-seat L-159As to two-seat L-159T1.|
|23 Nov 2007||Four L-159T1 officially delivered and accepted by the Czech MoD.|
|Notes: BACK TO TOP|
Aero = AERO Vodochody a.s.
CzAF = Czech Air Force
MoD = Ministry of Defense
Clean Hunter = annual NATO Combined Air Operations exercise in Northern Europe, with flying in Germany/Poland..
Flying Rhino = annual FAC/CAS exercise organised by the British Army at Namest AB, Czech Republic.
NATO Air Meet = large-scale annual NATO air tactical exercise, hosted each year by a different nation.
TLP = multi-national air Tactical Leadership Programme, five to six courses a year mostly at Florennes AB, Belgium.
- Aero Vodochody, http://www.aero.cz, official website Aero Vodochody, 2006-2007, Czech Republic, last accessed on 16 Dec 2007.
- AFM (2007). Indonesia Offered Czech L-159s, Air Forces Monthly #227, February 2007, p.20, Key Publishing Ltd, UK.
- AFM (2007). Surplus Czech L-159s Offered to Nigeria, Air Forces Monthly #227, February 2007, p.21, Key Publishing Ltd, UK.
- Keijsper, G., (2007). Against All Odds, Air Forces Monthly #230, May 2007, pp.44-49, Key Publishing Ltd, UK.
- Silent, J., (2007). Possible Czech L-159 Sales to Georgia and Nigeria, Air Forces Monthly #232, July 2007, p.14, Key Publishing Ltd, UK.