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KIT REVIEW


Special Hobby L-39ZA "Attack and Trainer: -- 1:48 Scale



The Aero L-39 Albatros is a high-performance jet trainer and light attack aircraft first developed for Warsaw Pact nations.  After the Cold War, the L-39 became quite popular in the civil aviation market in the West.  It’s a little hot-rod.  As I am writing, I spent a good portion of my day photographing L-39s from the Warrior Jet Team and Art Nalls Aviation.  This review could not have been better timed!  So here, we take a look at Special Hobby’s multimedia L-39ZA kit that also has an option to build one ZA/ART variant.  It is based on some older tooling but also includes resin and photoetched metal parts along with new decals.    

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In 1964, Czechoslovak aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody began to look at designs to replacement their first-generation Warsaw Pact jet trainer, the Aero L-29 Delfín.  This new airplane drew on the L-29’s strengths but was certainly more advanced.  It would emphasize operational flexibility, simplicity, affordability, and be easy to fly.  The aircraft’s engineering was streamlined to avoid excessive levels of maintenance, and the new plane’s rugged landing gear and low take-off and landing speeds would allow it to operate from unimproved settings such as grass airstrips and frozen lakes.  The final design employed a low-set, straight wing with fuel tanks permanently attached to the wingtips.  The long, pointed nose led back to a tandem cockpit for student and instructor.  Individual canopies would be opened manually and are hinged on the right.  An Ivchenko AI-25TL delivered about 3,000 pounds of thrust.

On 4 November 1969, "Prototype X-02" flew for the first time, and soon, production versions designated as the L-39C commenced deliveries in 1971.  In 1972, the Warsaw Pact designated the L-39 as the primary jet trainer and the orders started to roll in.  The same year saw the rollout of the L-39V (a target tug) and in 1975, the L-39ZO appeared and was equipped with four underwing hardpoints for ground attack munitions.  In 1977, the first L-39ZA light combat variant was fitted with a GSh-23 cannon under the fuselage.

Until the early 1990s, Aero Vodochody produced roughly 200 L-39 airframes annually.  L-39s were operated by more than 30 air forces around the world.  With the end of the Cold War, sales dropped precipitously.  In 1996, production of the L-39 came to an end after some 2,900 airframes had been produced.  Since then, Aero Vodochody has developed or otherwise proposed several improved variants of the L-39 including the Aero L-159 Alca light attack aircraft. 

Many L-39s have been sold to private owners in the West, given their average $250,000 price tag.  Today there are some 250 L-39s registered to civilian owners in the United States.  Display teams such as the Warrior Jet Flight Team, the Patriots Jet Team, and the Breitling Jet Team fly L-39s.  Their popularity even led to an L-39 Jet class introduced at the Reno Air Races in 2002.

The L-39ZA was a significantly upgraded L-39ZO employed as an armed trainer and light attack jet.  It had beefed-up landing gear, a higher payload (up to 2,000 lbs.), and the GSh-23L 23-millimeter twin-barreled cannon attached in a conformal pod containing 150 rounds.  The outboard pylons were wired to carry K-13 or R-60 air-to-air missiles for self-defense.  The first ZA prototype flew in late September 1976, and kicked off a production run of 208 ZA airframes.  Based on this design, the 40 L-39ZA/ART aircraft built for the Royal Thai Air Force but were equipped with Elbit avionics.

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The Special Hobby 1:48 scale L-39ZA/ART kit is a multimedia kit.  It features three injection molded polystyrene sprues containing 95 parts, seven clear parts on one sprue, 75 photoetched metal parts on one fret, 36 resin parts, and one sheet of clear acetate containing 11 clear elements.  Cartograf did the two decal sheets, and the full color instruction booklet organizes the build over 18 steps.  Markings for seven paint schemes are provided:  

Strengths:  Any time I can get my hands on an L-39 kit, I get pretty interested – they are neat airplanes and for me, the L-39 represents perennially interesting subject matter.  Here, we have a solid L-39 offering, though a few observations are warranted since this is a multimedia kit based on a 20 year-old set of molds.

The plastic parts are based on the 1990s MPM tooling.  MPM, of course, evolved into Special Hobby.  It’s a good tooling with accurate shapes, recessed panel lines, and other features (but see below for few key caveats).  The parts breakdown is conventional and fairly simplified for ease of relatively rapid construction (e.g., upper and lower wing halves, left and right fuselage halves, and so forth).

By itself, the kit cockpit is rather basic, and that’s to be kind.  Yet, the PE and resin parts in this kit are quite comprehensive so as to re-define the cockpit and make it really stand out, from the instrument panels to ejection seat harnesses and resin ejection seat head rests.  The cockpit sill is a single piece and drops down onto the cockpit.

On the exterior, the main gear well doors are typically closed when the jet is on the ground, and that’s how the kit represents them.  There are many resin and photoetched metal parts that are added to the exterior of the kit, from various antennas, static wicks, fairing covers, flap actuators, and more.  The gun nose pod is a gorgeous resin casting, as are the replacement resin wheels, engine nozzle, flap actuator fairings, and other small airframe detail parts.  External stores include two injection-molded drop tanks and two really great looking cast resin unguided rocket pods.  For the Royal Thai L-39, an alternate vertical stabilizer fin cap is provided.

The range of markings options is slightly drool-inducing – there’s not a “weak” option among them, and they are all quite interesting, especially the Royal Thai anniversary scheme and the IAF-marked L-39 representing one of the two jets so marked during evaluation of the jet by Israeli in 1990.  Markings come for the two Czech and Algerian jets at different points in their lifetime, including when the Algerian L-39ZA went back to the factory for significant repairs following a landing mishap.  The Cartograf decals are just flat-out gorgeous.  Not only are they admirable from a technical decal printing perspective, but you get a ton of airframe stencils – a dream come true for those who love to decal (your reviewer).   

Weaknesses:  Since the plastic parts are based on a mid-1990s era MPM kit, a lot of the plastic parts are characteristic of that era’s limited run injection molded kits.  Watch out for large sprue gates attaching to even small parts, and additional cleanup will be needed in many places.  The texture of the fuselage halves is a bit rough and grainy, and I would recommend polishing it down with 3000+ grit sandpaper/MicroMesh so as to match the smoothness of the wing parts.  There are no alignment tabs or pins.  My solution is to make your own tabs using plastic stock and use a slow setting superglue to allow yourself to find the best fit and alignment between fuselage and wing halves.  The intakes lead to a blanked-off intake channel far forward of the first stage compressor blades.  In other words, the intakes call for the use of intake covers.   

The control surfaces are not separate parts.  For a realistic L-39, you’ll want to remove and reposition the elevators at the very least.  When the power is off, the elevators defect upward when the Albatros is just sitting there on the ground.  Also, the L-39ZA/ART should have a series of small vortex generators on the bottom of the horizontal stabilizers.  I can’t find them in this kit. 

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Special Hobby has done a great job here, combining a venerable and rather good (limited run) plastic kit and enhanced it with great resin and photoetched metal detail parts and killer decals.  Take your time with parts prep and alignment, and you should be able to build quite an outstanding L-39 Albatros from this kit.  If you have some experience building limited run multimedia kits, all the better!  There’s also a rather wide range of aftermarket sets from CMK to add even more detail should the builder pursue such options.   

Sincere thanks are owed to Special Hobby/CMK for the review sample.  You can visit them on the web at http://www.specialhobby.info/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/specialhobby

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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Just Released!

JET FIGHTERS
OF THE U. S. NAVY AND MARINE CORPS
PART 1: THE FIRST TEN YEARS
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Detail & Scale Special Edition Books

U. S. Navy and Marine Carrier-Based Aircraft of World War II
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Attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan Awakens a Sleeping Giant

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Colors & Markings of U. S. Navy
F-14 Tomcats,
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Colors & Markings of the F-102
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Colors & Markings of U. S. Navy
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