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Aero L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) - Czechoslovakia, 2000

Detailing the development and operational history of the Aero L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) Light Combat Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 11/15/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Aero L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft)  
Picture of Aero L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft)

The sleek Aero L-159 ALCA series of Czech light strike aircraft was developed from the existing L-59 Super Albatros family.

The Aero L-29 Delfin (NATO: "Maya") began the long-running line of indigenously-designed light strike / advanced trainers emerging from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Aero Vodochody designs dated back to World War 1 (1914-1918) where the concern managed production of German aircraft until the end of the war in 1918. The following year, the first wholly-Aero design emerged as the "Ae 01". The firm survived the tumultuous interwar years and, despite first German - then Soviet - influence, was still standing at the end of World War 2 (1939-1945).

Often overlooked in military discussions in the West, Czechoslovakia has managed one of the more refined (and storied) military industries producing both excellent small arms and aircraft to meet the needs of a modern military. The Aero L-159 ALCA ("Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) was one of the latter developments which became an advanced offshoot of the capable L-59 "Super Albatros" having entered service in 1986. The ALCA achieved its first flight on August 4th, 1997, and was formally adopted by the Czech Air Force in April of 2000. Production spanned from 1997 to 2003 in which 72 examples were produced across two distinct forms. The Czech Air Force is the primary operator of the aircraft.

Origins of the L-159 date back to 1992 as Aero Vodochody began development of a new, all-modern advanced trainer with light-strike capabilities. The aircraft would be rather conventional in its design approach, easy to maintain and offer a capable airborne classroom. The advanced trainer/light strike category has long been a popular - and sometimes lucrative - market for aviation companies due to the worldwide requirement for modern aircraft purchased on tightened budgets. Such aircraft allow most any nation to not only train new generations of airmen but also to supply local inventories with an arms-delivery combat platform. The L-159 - and aircraft of its kind - fulfill this rather niche role nicely amidst all the purchased of F-15s, F-16s, MiG-29s and Su-27s.

The L-159 was given the established Aero appearance complete with a sharp nose cone assembly, raise fuselage spine and low-set wing appendages. The sloping nose allows for excellent forward and side-to-side views from the minimally-framed canopy. The cockpit is situated ahead of midships while the fuselage is home to the requisite radar, avionics suite and single turbofan installation. The engine is aspirated by twin half-moon intakes fitted to either side of the fuselage, just aft of the cockpit. Wings are low-mounted and straight in their general design, their tips capped by noticeable streamlined pods. The empennage is relatively short and tapered at the engine exhaust ring while the tail is made up of a single vertical fin with low-set tail planes. The undercarriage is wholly retractable and consists of two main single-wheeled legs and a single-wheeled nose leg. There are seven hardpoints of note - a single underfuselage mounting and three underwing mounting points (each wing) for up 5,160lbs of externally-held ordnance. The L-159 supports the American AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-132 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles as well as the popular and proven AGM-65 Maverick. the standard gunpod is the 2x20mm ZVI Plamen PL-20 series. Unlike other trainer aircraft, the L-159 is fitted with radar ("Grifo-L").

Power for the aircraft series is supplied by the American-made Honeywell F124-GA-100 series turbofan engine, this producing upwards of 6,330lbs thrust. The arrangement supplies the airframe with a maximum speed of 580 miles per hour (though near-600mph speeds are possible) forcing the aircraft to remain subsonic but come in under cost in both terms of procurement and long term maintenance. Operational range is 975 miles with a combat radius of 350 miles. The listed service ceiling is 43,300 feet with a rate-of-climb of approximately 12,220 feet per second.

The L-159 was developed into two variant forms, the primary being the L-159A single-seat mount intended as a multi-role combat platform. This variant can be outfitted with different ordnance options to suite the mission requirement and the radar installation allows for all-weather/ day or night operational service as needed. Ordnance options run the gamut of modern homing/guided missiles and laser-guided munitions as well as gun pods and rocket pods. The L-159B is the definitive advanced trainer/light strike platform that features seating for two in tandem (usually student and instructor when training) and shares much of the same construction and internal layout of the A-model save for the space taken up by the inclusion of the second cockpit. While intended as an advanced jet trainer, this version can also double as a dedicated combat platform using the "two heads are better than one" advantage not seen in other modern single-seat types. The L-159T1 designation is used by the Czech Air Force to signify stocks of existing single-seat L-159A mounts having been converted to the more useful two-seat L-159B form.

The L-159BQ designation is to be used to signify two-seat trainers intended for the burgeoning Iraqi Air Force. On October 12th, 2012, a $1 billion USD deal was announced between the Iraqi government and Czech Republic for 28 such combat aircraft - 24 of the lot being new-build from Aero and the remaining four from the existing Czech Air Force stock. The Iraqi Air Force will also make use of some 30 Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcons beginning in March of 2014 with formal air power reached sometime in 2020. Iraq has not operated an official air force branch of service since the US-led 2003 invasion.

December 2016 - The Iraqi Air Force received its first L-159 aircraft.

March 2017 - Aero Vodochody has announced its renewed commitment to the production of its L-159 light attack aircraft citing renewed market interest in such types worldwide. Production is set to restart. An early possible candidate to purchase this new-built stock has been revealed to be Argentina.

Aero L-159A ALCA Specifications

Service Year: 2000
Status: Active, In-Service
Type: Light Combat Aircraft
National Origin: Czechoslovakia
Manufacturer(s): Aero Vodochody - Czech Republic
Total Production: 72

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 41.73 feet (12.72 meters)
Overall Width: 31.30 feet (9.54 meters)
Overall Height: 15.98 feet (4.87 meters)

Weight (Empty): 9,590 lb (4,350 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 17,637 lb (8,000 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Honeywell F124-GA-100 turbofan engine developing 6,330lb of thrust.

Maximum Speed: 505 knots (582 mph; 936 kph)
Maximum Range: 972 nautical miles (1,118 miles; 1,800 km)
Service Ceiling: 43,307 feet (13,200 meters; 8.20 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 12,220 feet-per-minute (3,725 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

2 x 20mm ZVI Plamen PL-20 cannons in gun pod.

Seven hardpoints (1 under centerline, 6 underwing) for air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, laser-guided bombs, conventional drop bombs and rocket pods.

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Czech Republic; Iraq; United States (Draken International)

Model Variants

L-159 ALCA ("Advanced Light Combat Aircraft") - Base Series Designation.
L-159A - Single-seat strike platform
L-159B - Two-seat strike platform
L-159T1 - Two-seat trainer for Czech Air Force
L-159BQ - Proposed two-seat trainer for Iraqi Air Force.

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