Thailand retires L-39ZA/ART Albatros fleet

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has finally retired its long-serving Aero Vodochody L-39ZA/ART Albatros training/close air support (CAS) aircraft.

The last remaining operational aircraft were withdrawn from use on March 31 during a ceremony at Chiang Mai Air Base, where the final unit operating the type was 41 Wing’s 411 ‘Thunder’ Squadron. Air Chief Marshal Airbull Suthiwan, commander-in-chief of the RTAF, presided over the event, which was also attended by senior air force officers. During the ceremony, the aircraft a final flypast, ending with a traditional water cannon salute as the final example taxied in.

L-39ZA/ART Albatros [Royal Thai Air Force]
Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) L-39ZA/ART Albatros - serial KhF1-22/37 ‘41122’ - on the ramp at Chiang Mai Air Base during the ceremony to mark retirement of the type from RTAF service on March 31. RTAF

The RTAF had placed an initial order for 36 aircraft, the first of which were delivered in October 1993. These were supplemented by a further four aircraft in April 1997. They were used for fighter/attack pilot training, CAS and combat search and rescue. In addition to 411 Squadron, the type had also been flown in recent years by 401 ‘Dragon’ Squadron at Takhli Air Base, where it was replaced by the KAI T-50TH in 2018, following transfer of the unit’s L-39ZA/ARTs to Chiang Mai the previous year.

Although no replacement aircraft have yet been ordered, it is expected that the RTAF will purchase the Beechcraft AT-6E Wolverine, which will be locally designated the A-6TH. Plans for the acquisition were revealed during a defence symposium in August 2020, when it was also stated that the T-6TH, a variant of the T-6 Texan II, would be bought to replace the Pilatus PC-9 in the training role. On September 28, Textron Aviation Defence announced that the RTAF had ordered 12 T-6 TH Texan IIs, which suggests that, for commonality, the A-6TH order is also likely to go ahead in due course.