Eagle Dynamics DCS: L-39 Albatros
Today I will open a new chapter on our website reviewing our first an add on for Eagle Dynamics’ Digital Combat Simulator, more respectively the Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros.
The L-39 is a high-performance jet trainer developed by Aero Vodochody in Czechoslovakia. The origins date back to the mid 1960s, when Aero designed the L-39 (originally dubbed C-39) as a successor of their successful L-29 Dolfin 1st generation jet trainer aircraft. Maiden flight of the L-39 took place in November 1969 with the serial production of the L-39C starting in 1971 (C stands for Cvičná = training).
The L-39 Albatros is considered the first 2nd generation jet trainer aircraft and the first jet trainer equipped with a turbo fan jet engine. It entered service in 1974 and became the standard trainer aircraft of the former Warsaw Pact Air Forces. 2660 samples of the L-39C have been built are still in use all over world, especially in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
While the L-39C only has two hard points for 500kg of weapons, a revised variant was developed in the mid 1970s, the L-39ZO and consequently L-39ZA (Z stands for Zbraně = weapons). The Z models were designed as weapons trainers, but also as a light close air support aircraft. The ZA version features a belly mounted GSch-23 23-mm canon and four hard points.
The L-39 saw combat in Abkhazia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Chchnya, Iraq, Libyia and Syria.
In the west the L-39 is probably best known from many air shows, being demoed either by single private pilots or the formidable jet demonstration teams like the Baltic Bees or the Breitling Jet Team.
Purchase and installation
The DCS: L-39 Albatros is available from official Digital Combat Simulator e-Shop for the price of US$ 59.99. Since DCS version 1.5 there is no need to download a module and install manually anymore, so after buying the L-39, you just fire up your DCS 1.5 or 2.0 and check for available modules. The L-39 will now be downloaded and installed automatically.
Along with the Albatros come two manuals. A 51 page strong Quick Start Guide and a 294 page strong User Manual. Both documents are in PDF format and in English language.
If you want a more comprehensive, easy to read guide, I would strongly suggest Chuck’s L-39ZA manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-uSpZROuEd3aHZwV0VtalFCR1E/view?usp=sharing
Chuck covers the L-39ZA, but the vast majority of the points is valid for the L-39C as well.
For repainters a skin template in layered PSD format is available in the download section of the DCS homepage.
In DCS the L-39 comes with a couple of tutorial- and quick missions, a campaign is not available.
In the sim
Let’s have a short look at the features of the L-39 according to the product page:
Key Features of the DCS: L-39 Albatros:
- Professional Flight Model that accurately mimics the performance and flight characteristics of this legendary aircraft
- Highly detailed, six-degrees-of-freedom (6 DOF) cockpit
- Interact with cockpit controls with your mouse
- Fully modelled weapon system
- Accurate L-39C and L-39ZA models and cockpits with correct country markings
- Detailed modelling of the L-39 instruments, weapons, engine, radios, fuel, electrical and hydraulic systems
- Fly from either the front seat or back seat
- Cooperative multiplayer in the same aircraft
- Interactive training missions
- Two versions of aircraft: L-39C trainer and L-39ZA light attack
While other aircraft already feature the possibility to fly from the front or the back seat, the feature that makes the L-39 unique in DCS is a little hidden in the list: Cooperative multiplayer in the same aircraft. The L-39 is the first – and as of the time of writing – the only DCS module allowing multi crew experience. Be it pilot/instructor, pilot/navigator, in the FAC role pilot and radio coms – the options are plenty and a second set of eyeballs during combat engagements is always welcome.
The L-39 includes several military skins for the Russian and Czech Air Force, plus a very attractive air show skin of the RUSS Aerobatic Team. Many more skins are available from the download section on the DCS homepage.
The player gets the option to either choose the Russian or an English cockpit. The language applies to the stencils only, the measures will remain in metric units in both versions.
Looking at the L-39C and L-39ZA from the outside reveals a beautiful aircraft, modelled with very fine detail. Check the photos of the real thing and compare them to the DCS: L-39 – I did not find any differences. Both the 3D model and the textures are simply splendid.Same is valid for the animations. Travel times for flaps, gear or the spoilers are all very accurate.
Thanks to the basic design of this flying school desk, a start from cold and dark is fairly easy and pretty straight forward. Even impatient people like me, will be ready for take-off in under 5 minutes.
What I really had to get used to, was the typical Soviet style nose wheel steering. The L-39 does not have differential brakes, let alone a selectable nose wheel steering. Just like in the bigger fighters you steer the wheel by holding the brake lever on your control stick and simultaneously moving the rudder pedals. My taxi lines still look like that of a drunken driver, but slowly I am getting used to it.
When you take to the air for the first time, don’t hang too much stuff under your wings. With two pilots and a full weapons load, the takeoff run will be quite long and the climb out pretty shallow at first. Nothing like the fancy airshow starts you might have seen. During aerobatics it is all about keeping the energy in the plane. Without a powerful afterburner you have to manage your energy well, if you want to start your loops or tight turns. Keep the speed up and the L-39 will perform nicely. Same is valid for aerial combat, but we will cover that later.
A nice feature of the twin seat jet trainer is the IFR hood for the front seat. From the instructor’s seat in the rear, you can pull a handle and close the trainee’s IFR hood, blocking his vision out of the cockpit completely. You think you are good at IFR flying? Try it out. I was amazed, or should I say shocked how often I found myself flying not level. It is great training and I can tell from my experience, it is very rewarding to actually end up at the (right) airfield after such a session.
Another important part of training is formation flying. Thanks to good controlability and the aerodynamic stability of the Albatros, flying in close formation can be learned fairly quickly.
So after we familiarized with the systems, practiced IFR and aerobatics and we can even stay in a close formation, let’s have a look at the art of weapons delivery.
For a light trainer aircraft, the L-39C and L-39ZA can carry quite an impressive array of armament, including:
- UB-16 S-5KO rocket pods (up to 4 on the ZA)
- PK-3 machinegun pods with three 7.62mm machineguns each (up to 4 on the ZA)
- GS-23 t win barrel 23mm canon mounted under the belly of the L-39ZA
- P-50T 50 kg practise bombs (up to 4 on the ZA)
- FAB-100 100 kg general purpose bomb (up to 4 on the C and 8 on the ZA)
- FAB-250 250 kg general purpose bomb (up to 4 on the ZA)
- OFAB-100 Jupiter 100 kg retarded general purpose bomb (parachute) (up to 4 on the C and 8 on the ZA)
- R-60M “Aphid” Infrared Air-to-Air missile (up to 2 on the C and ZA)
- R-3S “Atoll” Infrared Air-to-Air missile (up to 2 on the C and ZA)
In addition to this array, we have the options for two 150 L or 350 L drop tanks and various smoke pods for air shows.
The L-39 does not feature any modern or sophisticated weapons systems, it all boiles down to pretty much point-and-shoot. Bringing a Laser- or TV-guided Maverick or GBU to the target is no big deal. Now try it with a simple P-50T, without CCIP or CCRP pipers. Calculate your entry level for the bombing run, set your gunsight to the correct depression value, keep the correct dive angle and release your bomb at the exact moment.
Same is valid for the unguided rockets at machinegun pods, only that you will use different depression settings on the gunsight.
For air-to-air combat the L-39 can be equipped with a pair of R-60M Aphid or R-3S Atoll infrared homing missiles. There is no radar to assist you in finding the target, you solely rely on either AWACS information or – more likely – the good old eyeballs Mk I. As soon as the humming tone of the IR seaker head gets the high pitch denoting it found a heat source (don’t shoot the sun!), you can fire your missiles. Keep in mind these are rear quarter aspect missiles only, so shooting from the flank or even the front is a waste of precious ammo. When engaging in aerial combat with the L-39 also keep in mind, that you neither have a Radar Warning Receiver, nor flares. All there is, is a set of colored signal flares.
Compared to the fancy weapons suites of modern combat aircraft this might not sound thrilling, but I really appreciated training these basic procedures. My skills really improved in the last two weeks, since flying the L-39.
As mentioned in the beginning, the L-39 saw quite some extensive combat use, mainly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Syria and Libya.
When talking to fellow DCS players about the L-39 I heard phrases like “limited combat value” or “my xy will bring it out of the sky”. Yes, you will not win a dog fight against an F-15 and yes, your chances of survival when taking on enemy ground forces gung-ho style are… let’s say minimal.
But does that mean the elegant L-39 has only minimal or even no combat value at all? Not in my opinion. There is a world beyond the “Can-do-everything-best” A-10C in DCS. If you are playing regional, limited conflicts with lightly armed insurgent forces as the enemy, the L-39 can be a great addition to your arsenal. Use it for light CAS, I can assure you the impact of up to four rocket pods or up to 8 retarded bombs on an enemy convoy is devastating.
Or use the L-39 as light top cover for an ongoing CSAR operation. The two IR A/A missiles should be welcomed by your friendly rotary forces. However, don’t use the machinegun pods in aerial combat. They can do some harm to a Hawk or CC-101, but don’t try to bring down helicopters like the Mi-8 or Mi-24. These are simple immune to this small arms fire. Not so soft ground targets.
In multiplayer environments, I envision the L-39 as a formidable Forward Air Controller. Even more so when used with a multi crew.
So, combat value? I say, do not underestimate this bird!
I was asked, why I chose the L-39 for my review and not some of the fancy stuff, like an A-10 or Mirage. Simple answer – because I wanted to use the L-39 in the role it was developed for: an advanced jet trainer aircraft. And it excels in this role. My IFR flying skills improved and my manual weapons delivery greatly improved after flying this beautiful bird for two weeks now.
Training with the L-39 created more than just a solid base, that my flying will benefit from, no matter what my next add on may be.
This alone would make it a good add on already. But the attack capabilities of the L-39 add a lot to the fun and offer a lot playing opportunities in DCS.
The L-39 is not a mud mover like the A-10C or a racy fighter like the Mirage Deuxmille, but combining the aspects of training and ground attack the L-39 is simply an excellent aircraft.
Long story short, I can only wholeheartedly recommend the DCS: L-39. A must have especially for DCS newbies (like me) who want to improve their skills.