UPDATED 19 June | As always its the orders for airliners that fight for attention at the Paris Air Show, but on the military side, things are happening as well. Most interesting little fact was the apparent first export order – announced on Monday – for the Pakistan-made JF-17 Thunder, although no country was mentioned. Let’s not be surprised however when it turns out to be Myanmar.
Pakistan Air Force officials only described the country that soon may add the JF-17 to its military inventory, as ‘Asian’. The same officials reported that current turmoil in the Middle East has slowed down export talks. The JF-17’s development meanwhile continues, with a possible two seat version on the way.
On the slower spectrum, Mali and Ghana agreed to buy six and five A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft respectively, while Saudi Arabia signed for four Airbus C295W medium transport and patrol aircraft. Perhaps the most prominent deal was the purchase of four Boeing C-17s for the Qatar Emiri Air Force.
As far as helicopters are concerned, Malaysia placed an order with Airbus Helicopters for two AS365 Dauphins for SAR duties.
Unnoticed by many was the first sale for Aero Vodochody of its new L-39NG aircraft. More on that is here.
Dassault’s Rafale was the most numerous aircraft. Three Rafales were on the ground, while a fourth gave a flying display. In the trade halls, models of Rafales in the colours of Qatar, India and Egypt were seen. Given the recent orders from those countries, further Rafale sales are unlikely.
Also in the halls, Alenia Aermacchi was pitching its M-345 jet trainer. France is reportedly interested in this trainer aircraft. Elsewhere, Antonov was pitching its new An178 transporter. The Ukrainian company also announced the An188, a military transport aircraft in the A400M and Boeing C-17 category, powered by four turbofan engines.
Czech aircraft builder Aero Vodochody introduced the L-39 Next Generation on Thursday 16 July during the Farnborough International Airshow. The new L-39NG aircraft is a further development of the successful L-39 aircraft, of which 3,000 were produced, building up 5 million flight hours worldwide.
The L-39NG builds upon the operating characteristics – manoeuvrability, ease of maintenance, adaptability to extreme climatic conditions and low operating costs – of the L-39, while adding many modern and advanced features that are required in present day training aircraft. Key new feature is the Williams International FJ44-4M engine, which delivers improved performance in speed, range and endurance.
In the cockpit, advanced modular “glass” avionics and communication systems along with embedded virtual training systems bring new capabilities in cost effective training for pilots of this and the next generation of military aircraft. Finally, the airframe features a new wing and the use of modern materials which reduce the overall weight as well as extend the airframe service life. These major changes are accompanied by many other detail advances in the design.
The new aircraft is intended as a direct replacement for the original L-39 aircraft – featured in this story on Airheadsfly.com – and a range of other jet trainers. Up to 60% the current world-wide jet trainer fleet will be withdrawn from service within the next 15 years. “We will offer existing users a solution to their aging L-39 fleets, but we also expect a number of new clients,” said Ladislav Šimek, president of Aero Vodochody. The company plans to introduce the L-39NG prototype in 2016 with the first deliveries beginning in 2018.
The sun and clouds paint a magnificent picture in the sky over Pardubice Airbase in the Czech Republic. The student pilots in two Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros trainers approaching runway 09 have no eyes for it, and neither have the instructor pilots in the back seat of both aircraft. A nice formation landing completes the training mission, one of many of Centru Leteckého Výcviku (CLV), also known as the Czech Flight Training Center. In ten years of operations, this scene has been repeated countless times by countless student pilots from the Czech Republic and abroad.
After both L-39Cs have successfully performed their formation landing, the aircraft taxi back to the CLV flightline. Minutes before, the ground crew were staring at the fantastic duet between clouds and the sun, but now they focus their attention on the returning aircraft. The student pilots in the front perform post flight checks while the instructors sign the paperwork with an air of casual seniority. They have done this before. Afterwards, students and instructors walk the short distance to the CLV building, while a fuel truck pulls up alongside the Albatros trainers. “The most expensive part of flight training”, says a technician.
Above all, CLV is the main supplier of Czech jet pilots, most of them aspiring to fly the Czech Air Force’s Saab JAS 39C/D Gripens one day. The L-39C Albatros is a proven method, as since its first flight in 1968, almost 3,000 of these sturdy trainers were built by Czech company Aero Vodochody for clients worldwide. The L-39 is an ideal trainer, with the Russian built Ivchenko AI-25TL turbofan supplying 3,792 lbs of thrust, giving the aircraft a top speed of 405 knots and a maximum range of 593 miles on internal fuel. No wonder the next two students at Pardubice eagerly await their instructors. They’re next up for a turn in both L-39Cs.
CLV has seven of these jet trainers available for training future Czech Air Force pilots, next to eight Zlin Z-142 single engine aircraft for elementary training, two L-410 twin engine turboprops for multi-engine aircraft training, plus six Mil Mi-2 Hoplites and six Mil Mi-17 Hips for rotary wing training. With its fleet, CLV covers not only all elementary, basic, advanced and even ‘combat ready’ flight training, but also line maintenance training. The company, part of LOM PRAHA, offers technical training to aircraft technicians from a number of countries.
The airbase of Pardubice is the main operating base for CLV, although extension of operations to the former military base of Přerov is on the cards. “We’re thinking of using Přerov for helicopter training in difficult conditions, such as brown out conditions”, says a company spokesman. The CLV Mil Mi17 training also consists of formation flights, mountain take offs and landing and Night Vision Goggles (NVG) flights. A full mission simulator is also used. Combat and tactical training on the L-39 is also done by simulation, in the Tactical Simulation Center (TSC), also located at Pardubice.
But, the two students now starting up their L-39Cs under the watchful eye of two instructors and the ground crew at the Pardubice flightline, will train for the same thing as just before; formation flying. While they concentrate in their cockpits, out of nowhere, three Czech Air Force Saab JAS 39C show up overhead the airfield. One of them acts as an intruder and is forced to ‘land’ by the other two at Pardubice. The landing actually turns into a low approach, after which the three Gripens disappear.
It’s future stuff for Czech CLV students. In general, the next stage for them after 200 hours on L-39s at CLV, is the L-159 ALCA light attack aircraft, on which they accumulate further flying and tactical experience. Only after a number of years and based on experience gained, they will have a chance of getting to fly Saab Gripen, the Czech prize fighter. A plan is in development however, to mix up pilots a little more between the ALCA and the Gripen. At the moment, only young pilots fly the ALCA, and only senior pilots fly Gripen. This situation is not ideal, according to sources in the Czech Air Force.
It is of no concern yet to the two pilots now taxiing both L-39C Albatros aircraft to the Pardubice runway for another training flight, which will complete today’s CLV flying schedule. The clouds and sun still paint a picture worth looking at. Then, two airborne L-39Cs add to the picture. The scene is a familiar one, and with CLV in town at Pardubice, it will remain a familiar one for years to come.
The Lithuanian Air Force is set to purchase one to three second-hand Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatros light attack and advanced training aircraft, sources within the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence confirmed in April 2014.
The small air force (Lietuvos karinės oro pajėgos or LK KOP) of the Baltic state is in desperate need for additional combat-ready jet trainers, to keep its pilot’s flying skills current. There is only one such jet aircraft available, after a second L-39ZA already in service crashed after a mid-air collision with a French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) Mirage 2000C on 30 August 2011. Fortunately no lives were lost in the accident, with both crew members ejecting okay. An additional two L-39Cs are solely used for flight training only.
Sources within the Defence ministry say they’re aiming to purchase at least one L-39ZA in 2015 or 2016, but hope to cut a nice deal with a current user for possible one or two more. However, since the department also expressed wishes to replace the fleet of nine Mi-8 Hip helicopters for newer models, a lot will depend on available funds. Lithuania already started the chopper modernisation process by ordering three Airbus Helicopter (Eurocopter) AS365 N3 Dauphins for the two of five Mil Mi-8T search-and-rescue tasked choppers on alert in Nemirseta and Kaunas.
Close air support
With Russian pressure on eastern Europe rising since February this year, additional L-39ZAs could be a relatively cheap way to bolster the close air support capabilities of the Armed Forces of Lithuania. Having now only one such fixed-wing aircraft and only a limited number of slow-flying helicopters available, Lithuania is depending much on NATO to help in times of need – with a rotating but permanent NATO combat detachment at Lithuania’s only fully capable air base: Šiauliai in the northwest of the country.
Since the beginning of this year ten US Air Force F-15C Eagle air-supiority fighters from RAF Lakenheath in England provide the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with combat air coverage. The Baltic Air Policing mission that rotates amongst NATO member states has been beefed up after Russia took over the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and has been pressuring that country ever since. From May the force will expand to a dozen fighter jets spread over two air bases: Šiauliai AB in Lithuania (main base) and Ämari AB in Estonia. Skrydstryp in Denmark and likely Malbork and/or Miñsk Mazowiecki in Poland serve as back-up locations.
Fierce wars are fought out daily in a low-key building at Pardubice airbase in the Czech Republic. Yet, inside the guarded building it is quiet. Men in flying suits walk in, only to come out hours later, after being bombarded with knowledge on tactical flying. This is the Tactical Simulation Centre (TSC), where Czech Air Force and other NATO-pilots brush up their skills in blue vs. red scenarios, with up to eight players at one time. It’s done digitally, with interlinked cockpit simulators and the impressive ‘God’s view’. How’s that for multiplayer action?
In the darkened main room of the TSC, four large black half-domes house four tactical simulators. The cockpits represent those of Saab JAS 39C Gripen air superiority fighters or L-159 ALCAs used for ground attack, with potential of future extension to other types of aircraft if requested. Each pilot has all tactical instruments and information laid before him on touch screen displays, and of course he has a stick and throttle identical to those in real aircraft. On the inside of the domes, a digital flying world is created, true to any scenario in any place of the world. This is tactical flying simulation at its best.
Over to the side are four more tactical simulators, simplified versions with slightly less impressive visualization possibilities. Also in the TSC there are two Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) stations and a Forward Air Controller (FAC) station. Elsewhere are briefing rooms, and in those rooms practicing pilots prepare their missions. However, they will never leave the ground while flying those missions. The TSC is a very cost effective solution; for the price of one flying hour in a modern fighter aircraft, dozens of aircrew can be trained for hours and hours.
No wonder other NATO-members are interested in the TSC, which is run by LOM PRAHA and is classified as ‘NATO secret’. Last year, a virtual Tiger Meet was successfully staged here, with air crew from various nations taking part.
Also, Slovak pilots have already trained in Pardubice and Germany and Poland are interested in having their pilots educated there as well. The TSC currently finishes adaption of the cockpit simulators to the L-39 standard, which means TSC can offer tactical training for all jet aircraft in the Czech forces. There are also plans to adapt the cockpit simulators to Lockheed Martin F-16 or MiG-29 standard.
Training takes place based on a range of scenarios, complete with radar threats, air defence systems, jamming. Air-to-air combat in simulated in beyond visual range (BVR) and within visual range (WVR) situations. Sit in one of the cockpit simulators and suddenly a Su-27 can pop up at long range inside your head up display (HUD), or even at your immediate 3 o’clock, too close for comfort. The GCI controller is guiding you via your headset. Maybe your wingman in the dome next to you will help you out, while you’re busy flying evasive maneuvers over a mountainous landscape. It gets exciting!
After the execution of the mission comes the debrief and 3D After Action Review (AAR). On large screens in the middle of the building, the mission is played back from all possible angles. The movements of each of up to eight ‘players’ are closely scrutinized, but there’s also the big picture (God’s view) of all the action. Each mission is thoroughly debriefed, evaluated and analyzed. And then, it’s lessons learned.
In the Tactical Simulation Centre it has been going on like this since November 2011, when the first courses started. Dozens and dozens of NATO combat pilots have been cost effectively trained on tactics. The centre has also attracted attention from fellow Air Combat Simulation Centre in Sweden, and a real-time connection to a similar installation in Sweden is on the cards. It’s good already at the TSC in Pardubice, and it will only get better.