Oh noooo… Santa’s giving me a ride in the L-39. Anyone should be truly happy at the thought of going for a jet fighter ride. The ride will deliver awesome sensations and emotions, and most teams truly love to share their passion for flying, and especially jet fighters. So that’s great. But… and there is a big “but” regarding the L-39. The Aero Vodochody L-39 is an advanced jet trainer used for the transition of pilots into front line fighter aircraft. The Czechoslovakian designed aircraft was built as the successor to their earlier trainer, the L-29 Delfin. Design work began in 1966, and the first prototype made its initial flight on 4 November 1968. The idea of the design was to marry an efficient, powerful turbofan engine to a sleek, streamlined fuselage, resulting in a strong, economical performer which would become the next standard jet trainer for the Warsaw Pact. With over 4,000,000 flight hours in military service, and flying for the air forces of over 30 countries, the L-39 is far and away the most successful trainer of its era. That was for the description, as unfortunately, the L-39 has been in the news over the past years and even more often recently, with crashes and incidents.
The real question anyone should ask now is – is the L-39 safe to fly? Despite all the offers that can be found online, the sad truth is that no other aircraft has had such a poor record in the recent years. 2012 has been quite bad with 4 crashes, 3 of which fatal, in the USA, 1 in South Africa, 1 non fatal in the Netherlands by the #2 Breitling Jet Team, 1 in the Czech Republic and 1 in Russia. There have been quite a few numbers of crashes as well in 2011, and 2010. All in all, that’s a lot of crashes for a single aircraft. Some incidents have been caused by reckless behavior. Some pilots figured they were Tom Cruise in Top Gun and their over confidence simply killed them or led them to crash as they some were fortunate enough not to be killed. Like this French man who went for a low pass and simply crashed in the trees at the end of the runway. There are better ways to die… In fact, the L-39 has been deemed too dangerous to fly by numerous countries, such as the Czech Republic where the army stopped flying the plane after one too many crashes in 2011. France is currently undergoing a profound change in legislation to stop the plane from being used for joy rides. The US has had to repeatedly warn operators that all regulations must be complied with. A perfect exemple is the one that follows, taken from the AVWeb website (http://www.avweb.com):
A California pilot who has run afoul of various authorities before has had his pilot certificate revoked by the FAA. Dave Riggs, 50, who is perhaps best known for buzzing the Santa Monica pier in an L-39 in 2008 (resulting in a one-year suspension), had his ticket pulled for his involvement in an illegal fly-for-hire operation in Nevada earlier this year. Riggs was in formation with another L-39 flown by Doug Gilliss when Gilliss’ aircraft crashed, killing him and passenger Richard Winslow. The FAA says Winslow and others paid for flights in the L-39s in violation of FARs that don’t allow commercial flights in experimental-registered aircraft like the jets used for the flights. Riggs is fighting the revocation. “We’ve done nothing wrong,” said Riggs, who told The Associated Press the flights were being conducted under a waiver for film and television production work. He didn’t specify what film project was being shot. As we reported in June, the NTSB preliminary report said the man who died was among eight people who had paid for a flight in one of the jets. “You have a history of committing other violations that indicate you put your own economic gain over aviation safety,” FAA lawyer Naomi Tsuda told Riggs. “You were willing to sacrifice the safety of others for your own personal financial gain by charging for flights in (the jet).”
So what is going on with the L-39? There are many issues with this aircraft. The first is the quality of the operators as illustrated above. The French justice has forbidden an operator to fly after serious doubts on the maintenance and because of dangerous flying. Then there are the people reselling the rides that do not necessarily know something about aviation. The coupon giants and the likes have been selling hundreds of flights in France, and they don’t have the expertise to properly select who they will work with. Another major issue is the engine. The L-39 is a single engine aircraft. And if it fails, well, that’s the end. The problem is that the engine has been failing a lot recently. That’s what happened with #2 Breitling, but also with an aircraft in Bordeaux, and may more in the Czech Republic. Is the L-39 dangerous? Some will start to approve… What’s the morality of the story. That a jet fighter ride is not like going for a rollercoaster ride. A jet fighter ride is a risky experience and passengers should be made of aware this. Then when selecting your ride, two engines are better than one. Select a Fouga Magister instead of the L-39, or go for the MiG29 in Russia, as it seems the L-39 has bad karma. We are not saying that all L-39 are dangerous, or the operators laxists, but given the sheer number of aircrafts in circulation, there is no wonder why the aircraft has experienced so many crashes recently.