Simple Economics Make Czech Jet A Solid Possibility For Future
Some of the busiest
aircraft flying in Edwards AFB livery are those designed to provide
"chase" services for the multitude of missions performed daily at
the USAF Test Center. A num,ber of aircraft have worked this
role... F-15s, F-16s, even T-38s... all at a significant cost of
operation that sure adds up, come budget-time.
Chase planes and their pilots perform a critical role at
Edwards, "He's (the Chase Pilot) there to back up the test pilot,
he's got a set of cards on him so he knows what's coming up and he
knows what's going on there, he looks at the border of the airspace
and he's just there as a second set of eyes so in case anything
goes on with that test aircraft he's there to support them," says
LTC Troy Fontaine, Test Operations Director.
Usually seen in pure white, with orange tails, there's a new
shape among the Chase-Planes at Edwards... and it comes from a
surprising source... the Czech Republic. Fontaine explained that,
"The l-39 is just at this point, an acquisition experiment, we're
going to have it here for six to nine months. And the three main
areas will be looking at with the l-39 are, is it mission suitable?
Can it find it's little niche here as a chase aircraft, or another
role that we can use it for. Is it maintainable? And the big one
for us is cost effectiveness, how much is this thing going to cost
compared to some of the stuff we had?"
The cost issue is a big one. While the L-39 isn't remotely as
capable as the F-15 or F-16, many of the chase missions require
little of the extra performance and capabilities that such birds
boast over the single-engine L-39. In many cases, the L-39 is
plenty of aircraft for the mission profile--this is where the
relatively inexpensive Albatros can really shine. L-39 Project
Officer Maj. Bill Koukourikos notes that, "Over the years aircraft
have gotten more and more expensive, we're looking for a short
term, low cost aircraft."
The L-39 is powered by a single 3,792-pound thrust Walter Titan
turbofan, and weighs (Empty) 7,340 pounds, with a maximum takeoff
weight of 11,618 pounds. Its wingspan is 31 feet, 0.5 inches, and
is all of 40 feet, 5 inches long. It's a subsonic bird with a max
speed of 485 MPH at 19,600 feet, and Sea Level max speed of 435
MPH. The service ceiling is 37,730 feet, with a range of 528 miles
on internal fuel and as much as 995 miles with external tanks.
Air Force sources claims that aircraft like the F-15 cost about
$7K per flight hour. For the F-16, around $6K, while so-called
"training aircraft like the T-38 require about $4k per flight hour.
The Albatros cost? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $2350/hr
Koukourikos explained that, "If this all turns out successful we're
going to do a four month review, we are going to look forward to
try and get two airplanes here stationed for an extended period of
time. Not permanently, but probably a three to five year time