Aero L-159 ALCA: A Millionaire's Toy Fighter Equipped Like a Legit Attack Jet

Aero L-159 ALCA 11 photos
Photo: Milan Nykodym- Own Work
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The Czechoslovakian Aero L-39 Albatross is best known for being the go-to personal toy of the eccentric, multi-millionaire aviation geek. That's on top of its accolades as a decent jet trainer and attack plane. But the L-39's reputation revolves around its service in the private sector as much today as ever before.
That's why you might find it fascinating to know the favorite toy of the hedge fund adrenaline junky has a more powerful, feistier younger relative you've probably never heard of before. If this is the case, allow us to introduce you to the Aero L-159 Advanced Light Combat Aircraft  (ALCA), the L-39's legit military attack-jet descendant.

The L-159 is an airplane developed at a pivotal time in Czechoslovakian history. A time in which the country needed to decide whether to remain a single nation under a communist government or ditch it, split up, and set out on their respective paths. Unlike most revolutions in Eastern Europe during this period, Czechoslovakia's divorce from communism came without too much fuss at all.

Soon after, the independent Slovakia and Czech Republic would emerge to become stalwarts of NATO. Throughout this entire process and far preceding it, the L-39 was an all-present force in a country split in two. The L-39 was designed and built in the Bohemian region of the modern-day Czech Republic by the Aero Vodochody company.

In the distant past, Aero, as it was then known and still known unofficially, used to make some pretty impressive-looking automobiles from 1929 until around the late 1940s. Since then, the company's focused solely on aircraft. Aero's magnum opus L-39's airframe first flew in 1968 and has flown with distinction in Air Forces across Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Aero L\-159
Photo: Wikimedia User CS92 - Own work
All this history became the setup for the L-159 ALCA, a jet whose development started at a time when Czechoslovakia's President Vaclav Havel was ironically de-mobilizing his military. Efforts to modernize a by-then slightly old and crusty airframe into a computer-age cyber jet ultimately resulted in two bespoke designs on the part of Aero.

The first was the L-59 Super Albatross, sporting a Lotarev DV-2 turbofan engine over the L-39's Ivchenko turbofan. The L-59 is a spectacularly robust and capable airframe in its own right, serving as an introductory trainer for real big-boy jets like the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Mirage 2000. But the L-159, the second L-39 evolution, might be the ultimate of the whole lineage.

With dimensions of just under 12.75 meters (41 ft 9 in) long and a 9.54 meter (31 ft 4 inches) wingspan, the L-159 ALCA isn't much larger than its Albatross forbearer. Being a straight-wing aircraft, you'll rip the wings off this bird, pushing past the never-exceed speed in the L-159 of 600 mph ( 960 km/h, 520kn). With a maximum takeoff weight of 8,000 kg (17,673 lbs), the L-159 can haul its weight around considerably better than the lighter, less powerful L-39

Meaning, sadly, supersonic speed is out of the L-159's reach. That doesn't mean the L-159's Honeywell/ITEC F124 turbofan engine with 28.2 kN (6,300 lbf) of thrust to play with isn't a speed demon in the sub-sonic region. Only once it reaches the top end, its straight wings more or less bump into a proverbial brick wall. But raw speed isn't everything. In areas where even the L-39 was revered as competitive, like maneuverability, the L-159 is still a top-notch performer.

Aero L\-159
Photo: Wikimedia User Yxen (Own Work)
With the benefit of a Grifo-L radar suite courtesy of the Italian Leonardo S.p.A., the L-159 has no problem tracking all but the stealthiest of warbirds and most of the stuff on the ground as well. Unlike most standard L-39s of days gone by, the L-159's fancy radar allows for it to use American air-to-air missiles AiM-9 Sidewinder or even AiM-120 AMRAAMs should the pilot be so lucky.

That's alongside the slew of other ground-based ordinances. The L-159 can also fly sporting. This includes American Mark 82 and Mark 83 unguided bombs, but also GBU-12 and GBU-17 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. If more widespread destruction is called for, the L-159 can also carry CBU-87 cluster bombs.

That's without mentioning the capability of this jet to carry the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile, 70mm unguided LAU rocket pods, and even up to three ZVI PL-20 Plamen gun pods. Being this armed to the teeth, the Aero L-159 is a formidable adversary for any Air Force to fight against. Not only is the type phenomenal at ground attack and close air support, but it's also perfectly capable in a dogfight.

Contemporary gen-IV and V fighter jets may be faster and stealthier than an L-159. But if the brave old bird can survive long enough to get out of beyond-visual-range (BVR) combat, the jet's lightweight airframe with accompanying Sidewinders and machine gun pods ensure the L-159 can effectively strike back against hostile forces.

Aero L\-159
Photo: Wikimedia User Karelj - Own work
In both single-seat attack jet and two-seater training variants, the L-159's appeal is truly international. As recently as the mid-2010s, the Iraqi Air Force was using L-159s to precision strike ISIS targets roaming the deserts in their territory. That's without mentioning the model's service in both Spain and its native Czech Republic.

If you were curious, this list of nations served also includes the United States. Through the private enterprise Draken International LLC, a fleet of at least 23 L-159E variants is operated as part of a squadron that provides simulated close-air support (CAS), electronic warfare training, and even mock aerial refueling, among other services. Alongside a fleet of 13 A-4 Skyhawks, 21 Mirage F1s, 25 MiG-21s, and 24 F-16 Fighting Falcons, the L-159 might be easy to blend into the considerable crowd around it.

But compared to gen-IV jet fighters in the Draken fleet, we can imagine the L-159 can keep on flying as everybody else has to turn back to base to refuel. Check back soon for more military jet profiles here on autoevolution.
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