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Aero Vodochody: 105 years of development and production of Czech training aircraft

Source: Aero Vodochody (Aero), Defence Industry Europe

Aero, the largest Czech aircraft manufacturer, celebrates its 105th anniversary this year since its founding on February 25, 1919. Throughout its history, Aero has produced over 11,000 aircraft – L-29 Delfín, L-39 Albatros, L-159 ALKA and L-39NG – for customers in 60 countries around the world with a total flight time of more than 13 million flight hours. Aero, a member of the Aerospace Industry Association of the Czech Republic (ALKP), employs more than 1,700 people at its production plant in Vodochody and development centre in Brno.

 

Aero not only has a rich history, but it is also a modern and innovative company today. The Czech aircraft manufacturer is one of the few aircraft manufacturers in the world that can completely develop and produce a military jet aircraft. Aero has stabilised financially in recent years and today successfully develops three main production pillars – production of L-39NG aircraft, overhaul programmes and production of components for Airbus or Embraer, for example.

“Aero is one of the oldest aircraft factories in the world, having produced an unimaginable 11,000 aircraft. There were years when a thirty-nine aircraft left the company’s airfield every day. I am happy that we have managed to stabilize Aero and preserve the unique Czech heritage for future generations so that we can build on the 5 generations of pilots trained to date and continue this historical legacy with the L-39NG,” says Viktor Sotona, President and Chairman of the Board of Aero, adding: “We want to always deliver the most appropriate systems, technology and support to military pilots and air forces to make our world a safer place.”

 

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In 2023, Aero increased production capacity of the L-39NG trainer at its Vodochody plant and opened a new development centre in Brno. Last year, production of L-39NGs for the state-owned LOM Praha started, which will be used to train Czech military pilots. Aero has entered into strategic R&D cooperation with prestigious domestic universities – the Czech Technical University (CTU), Brno University of Technology (BUT) and the University of Defence in Brno (UNOB).

In 2024, Aero will significantly increase production of wing leading edges for the Airbus A220. Aero has also become Embraer’s main partner in the Czech Republic for the production of C-390 aircraft in connection with their acquisition for the Czech Army. The recently concluded long-term cooperation with Draken, which uses the L-159 fleet for training fighter pilots on F-16 or F-35 aircraft, also has a strategic framework.

 

 

Beginnings: 1919-1923
Aero was founded on 25 February 1919, shortly after the establishment of the independent Czechoslovak state. Among its first own designs were the A-1 military aircraft for pilot training and the Ae-02 combat aircraft, which won the Aeroklub competition. Aero also created the first Czech transport aircraft, the A-10, which flew between Prague and Bratislava. In addition, it developed a number of other types for military and commercial purposes, such as the A-14 reconnaissance and training aircraft.

“Aero’s longtime factory chief pilot was Josef Novák (1893-1934), who flew 30 new aircraft, held nine national aviation records, and had three confirmed kills in World War I.”

 

Expansion: 1923-1938
In 1923, Aero moved to a new factory in Vysočany, where it began producing various types of aircraft for military and civilian use. The successful A-11 family of military biplanes (bombers and reconnaissance) numbered approximately 250. The A-32 observation aircraft and light bomber, first flown in 1927, served in the Czechoslovak and Finnish air forces. The A-35 was the first mountain plane developed at Aero. The Bata Shoe Factory purchased two machines for transporting passengers and goods. They were among the first corporate aircraft in the world.

“In 2023, the first flight of the “Spacek” was a great historical event. It was the first serial Czechoslovak Aero A-18 fighter.”

 

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War production: 1938-1944
Production of new aircraft ceased during the occupation. Local aircraft factories had to supply planes to Germany. Aero lost the ability to develop its own aircraft during the war. It was forced to mass produce German machines, such as the Bücker – Bü31 Jungmann, a biplane for training and aerobatics, or the C-3 and Siebel Si-204D, a twin-engine military machine.

“Vodochody Airport, which was established in 1942, is now a non-public international airport with a runway 2,500 metres long and 45 metres wide and an emergency runway 1,400 metres long.”

 

Post-war production: 1945-1958
Aero developed the successful four-seat, twin-engine Ae-45 after World War II. This popular and reliable model was produced in several versions between 1948 and 1962 (590 units in total). In 1953, Aero moved to Vodochody, where it began producing MiG jet fighters under Soviet license. Aero produced a total of 3,608 MiG-15, MiG-19 and MiG-21 aircraft between 1954 and 1972. This production also encouraged the development of its own L-29 and L-39 jet trainers.

“The famous Czechoslovak aerotaxi Ae-45 was a great success at home and abroad. The legendary aircraft won the renowned English race, crossed the Atlantic and the Sahara.”

 

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Current age: 1959-1967
The L-29 Dolphin was the first jet aircraft designed in Czechoslovakia. Although the last Aero aircraft was delivered in 1974, there are still many Dolphins in serviceable condition and some of them are popular with civilian owners. A total of 3,665 Dolphins were produced, of which 1,943 were built at Aero Vodochody and 1,722 at LET Kunovice. The Dolphin became the most successful training aircraft that ever existed.

“One of the most important personalities of Czech aviation is Jan Vlček (1922-1984), who participated in the development of the L-29 Delfín and then was the chief designer of the L-39 Albatros trainer.”

 

Domestic jet aircraft: 1968-1990
The L-39 Albatros was the next highly successful jet trainer after the L-29. It was the first aircraft of this category with a twin-jet powerplant. It is still in service with many air forces around the world. Its first flight took place on 4 November 1968 with the X02 prototype. Aero produced nearly 3,000 of them. The original version was designated the L-39C (trainer), followed by light combat, towing and foreign trade variants. The most famous aerobatic groups in the world still fly the Albatros.

“Albatrosses leave a stellar mark in the film industry as well. They were involved in the filming of the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, the action comedy Lethal Weapon and the recent hit Top Gun: Maverick.”

 

 

New era: 1992-present
The L-159 ALCA is a light jet combat aircraft used for a variety of purposes such as ground force support, defense, reconnaissance or training. It is flown by the Czech and foreign air forces, for example in Iraq, the USA and the UK, where the L-159 is used for fighter pilot training. Aero is continuously maintaining and upgrading it to meet the requirements for 5th generation aircraft. Recently, Aero introduced the L-159 T2X prototype with new avionics systems.

“The L-159 continues to be an important part of various NATO exercises. The aircraft is also valued as an aggressor in the training of F-35 or F-16 pilots of the US and British air forces.”

 

Jet production resumption: 2000-2018
Development of the new L-39NG trainer jet from the traditional Czech aircraft manufacturer from Vodochody began in 2014. Just a year later, the L-39CW technology demonstrator took off, and the first prototype took to the air on 22 December 2018. The new generation trainer from Aero was presented with new materials, modern avionics systems, a new wing and powerplant.

“The L-39NG is a modern aircraft, the most efficient in its category, which provides comprehensive training to pilots of the 4th and 5th generation aircraft.”

 

 

L-39NG serial production: 2018-present
Aero’s L-39NG two-seat subsonic aircraft is not only the optimal platform for a comprehensive training system for future 4th and 5th generation fighter pilots, but also for combat, patrol and reconnaissance missions. In 2019, the aircraft was shown to fans at the NATO Days in Ostrava. The first mass-produced aircraft at Aero in 20 years was produced on November 22, 2022. The L-39NG was certified to EU and NATO standards and is now offered in both Western and Eastern certifications. The L-39NG trainer has a service life of up to 15,000 flight hours, triple that of its predecessor, the L-39 Albatros.

“300 domestic and foreign companies are involved in the production of the trainer jet from the Czech Republic. About 60% of them are Czech companies. One L-39NG requires 8,500 metres of wiring, 17,500 rivets and 31,000 hours of work.”

 

Source: Aero Vodochody.

 

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