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Summer Vacation in an L-39

What do pilots and Peter Pan have in common? They are forever young in their mind’s eye. Thirty years after retiring from the Air Force, I decided it was time to get checked out in another jet.

Hanging out with fellow aviators in the Red Star Pilots Association – they own and fly Soviet block and Chinese aircraft – I met several who have Aero Voldochody L-39 aircraft. The L-39 is a sleek looking subsonic trainer used by the now Russian Air Force, as well as many others.

The company I work for requires me to maintain instrument currency in manned aircraft and provides a monthly reimbursement for doing that. In addition, they provide grants for advanced training. My boss urged me to take advantage of these opportunities.

After a little research, I determined the company would cover a significant portion of the cost to get a type rating in the L-39. I was off to the Jet Warbird Training Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico for my summer “vacation”.

One of my current flying buddies who had previously owned an L-39 recommended this flight school run by Larry Salganek. In addition to the L-39, Larry also provides training in an L-29, a T-33, a Fouga and a MiG-15. The L-39 is the classiest of the group in my opinion.

I checked in on a Wednesday morning for some ground school and my first flight, consisting of a little aircraft handling and normal patterns. After lunch, it was another ground school session and my second flight, with more air work and simulated flameout patterns all the way to a touch and go.

The “syllabus” was very targeted to prepare me for an airline transport pilot level type rating in the L-39. Thursday, more ground school and two more flights, to include instrument approaches and practicing all the maneuvers for the check ride. Each flight lasted an hour.

The L-39, like many Russian aircraft, is typically rugged, reliable and simple to fly and operate. The electrical, pressurization and hydraulic systems are straight forward. The checklists for normal operations (start, taxi, takeoff, climb, cruise, descent, landing and shutdown) all fit on a single page. Emergency procedures are longer, but uncomplicated and logical.

Friday morning, a different instructor gave me a phase check. This was a mock check ride to give me the necessary endorsement for the real check ride that I got Friday afternoon with the FAA designated examiner.

The only reasons I was able to do such an accelerated course were my training and experience flying in the Air Force, and the fact that I still fly regularly. It was a great bucket list experience.

About the Author: Rich Martindell flew F-4s in Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States with 232 combat missions, 52 of which were in North Vietnam. He also flew F-15s at Luke AFB, AZ and Bitburg AB, Germany. Rich currently flys MQ-9 Reapers worldwide as a contract pilot for the military. Rich belongs to both Flight 13 in San Diego and Flight 56 at Edwards AFB.