Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Patriots

This civilian aerobatic jet team showcases military flying skills and gives back to aviation

The L-39 Albatros
If you've watched the Patriots perform, you've no doubt said to yourself, "I want one of those jets!" At anywhere between $200,000 and $300,000, they're within the reach of a few select souls. Yet, in comparison with American Iron jets like the T-33 or T-38, the Czechoslovakian-built L-39 Albatros is a relative bargain.

The jet was introduced in the late 1960s as a jet combat trainer for Warsaw-pact countries to replace the L-29 Delfin, and was the first turbofan-powered jet trainer made. It was put in production in 1971 and approximately 2,800 were produced. Thirty countries have used the L-39, and it's the most widely used jet trainer in the world. The FAA shows some 255 L-39s registered to private owners in the U.S.

The sleek little trainer is known for superb handling, excellent visibility from both cockpits, ease of maintenance, ability to fly out of less-than-perfect fields and high reliability. One characteristic particularly appealing to buyers is the ample nose compartment that can fit a set of golf clubs or duffle bags. As a personal jet, it's tough to beat.

The L-39 is powered by a single 3,792-pound thrust, Ivchenko AI-25-TL turbofan engine. It has an empty weight of 7,340 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight of over 10,362 pounds, depending on configuration. The L-39 has a maximum sea level speed of 435 mph, gaining an extra 50 mph at 19,600 feet. It can fly over 550 miles with full fuel, and 995 miles with external tanks. It has a ceiling of 36,100 feet.

If you want to own an L-39, you'll need to obtain an Authorized Experimental Aircraft rating (AEA). That requires a checkride with an authorized check pilot. You'll also need: a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating; 1,000 hours total time, 500 as PIC; a current medical FAA 3rd class and BFR. You can also count on five to 10 hours training to get comfortable with the aircraft, and that's assuming you have some turbine experience. You'll also need to complete a three-day ground school course.

L-39 ownership isn't for the timid. An annual can cost $13,000. Liability insurance is around $12,000 a year. Most owners figure on spending about $5,000 a year in parts, as well as another $2,000 on regular maintenance issues. Fuel burn is $750-1,000/hour depending on fuel price ($1,500 per jet during the Patriots' air show routine), and don't forget that ejection seats add a whole other dimension and cost.

The jet has an excellent website for prospective owners and enthusiasts at


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