Aero Vodochody Reveals New Jet Trainer Plans

 - October 12, 2017, 8:05 AM
The first new L159T2 is now in production at Aero Vodochody’s factory in the Czech Republic. (Photo: Alan Warnes)

Czech company Aero Vodochody is assembling three new two-seat L-159T2 advanced jet trainers in its factory at Prague. This is the latest version of an aircraft that serves the Czech Air Force and two export customers: the Iraqi air force and the contract air service provider Draken International. The company has also provided more detail on its plans to produce a new version of its original L-39 jet trainer, and to upgrade those still serving with various air forces.

Like the single-seat L159 light combat aircraft that Aero produced in the late 1990s, the L159T2s will carry a Leonardo Grifo radar, but they will have improved software as well as four five-by-seven-inch multifunction displays (MFDs) and wet wings. These three new-production aircraft will enter Czech service, and the five two-seat L-159Ts in service with the Czech air force will also be upgraded to the T2 standard, by the end of 2019.

The Czech Air Force also operates 16 single-seat L-159s, out of the 72 that it originally planned to acquire. Of the remainder, 10 were sold to Iraqi and 21 to Draken. Iraq also acquired a sixth L159T that was previously in Czech air force service, and a new-build two-seater. Both these two-seaters are currently based at Aero’s Prague facility to train Iraqi pilots, but they will move to Iraq soon.

Aero Vodochody is offering the Czech Air Force a comprehensive upgrade for its single-seat L-159s, which entered service in 2000. Massimo Ghione, Aero’s chief business officer, said the work could include “a complete new fourth generation-plus avionics package, a targeting pod, Grifo radar software improvements, a new self-defense suit, a wet wing, wingtip air-to-air missile launchers, a fixed air-to-air refueling probe, full night vision goggle [NVG] configuration in the cockpit and a helmet mounted display.”

It is unlikely the Czech Air Force will go for the full upgrade on offer, but would certainly be interested some aspects. The targeting pod is of particular interest, since the Rafael Litening is already in service on the Czech Air Force’s Saab Gripen fighters.

Meanwhile, Aero Vodochody is now flying a prototype of the L-39NG ("New Generation”) version of the original L-39 jet produced in large numbers from 1968 to 1997 as the standard trainer for the former Warsaw Pact and some other countries. The L-39NG has a Williams FJ44 turbofan and a glass cockpit. The prototype has been converted from an old L-39, but three new-build L-39NGs are now being assembled at the Prague factory.

The first of these three L-39NGs is expected to fly in the third quarter of 2018, and to be delivered in late 2019 as a trainer to LOM Praha. But Aero also plans to add light attack capability to the L-39NG. The first flight of such an aircraft is expected in January 2020.

Marco Venanzetti, who recently joined Aero from Alenia Aermacchi to head the L-39NG program, said: “It will have five hard points: one on the centerline and two under each wing; two 350-liter fuel tanks; Mk 81 [250-pound]/82 [500-pound]) laser-guided/free-fall bombs; CRV-7 unguided/guided rocket launchers and a single/twin barrel gun-pod which will be available on the centerline as well as on two under wing pylons, should the customer need more fire power. This configuration will satisfy 80 percent of our customers.”

Aero Vodochody’s offer to upgrade existing L-39s to the L-39NG is now designated the L-39CW version.