This Czech training jet was the Warsaw Pact’s answer to the T-38

The T-38 Talon has seen a long career training fighter pilots, entering service in 1961. Since then, over 72,000 pilots have been trained in that plane. But there were a number of countries that needed an advanced jet trainer, but had no access to the T-38. Those would be the Soviet Union and their allies.

Thankfully, for them, the Czechoslovakian aircraft manufacturer Aero came along. In 1972, the L-39 Albatros entered service with the Czechoslovakian Air Force, and then was imported by the Soviet Union and its allies. In the 45 years since, it has proven to be an excellent trainer and light-attack plane. MilitaryFactory.com notes that almost 3,000 of these planes have been built – compared to only 1,146 T-38s!

An Aero L-39 Albatros on takeoff. (Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the T-38, the L-39 wasn’t supersonic – its top speed is 391 miles per hour. It’s just under 40 feet six inches long, with a wingspan of roughly 31 feet, and about 15 feet six inches tall. It has a maximum range of just under 1,100 miles. The lane can carry up to 1,100 pounds of weapons, including a 23mm cannon in a centerline pod, AA-2 Atoll missiles, and rocket pods. There are also provisions for two wing tanks.

The L-39 was exported to the Soviet Union (and after 1991, to the various successor states), as well as to many other Warsaw Pact countries (Poland being a notable exception), and to planes like Libya, Algeria, Vietnam, and North Korea. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the L-39 airframe has been receiving Western technology, including engines and avionics.

The L-39’s 45 years of service have seen huge changes. Over 200 L-39s are in private hands across the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. You can see a video about this long-lasting trainer below.