The prototype of the L-29 Delfin ("Dolphin") trainer, called the XL-29, first flew in Czechoslovakia on 5 April 1959, powered by a Bristol Siddeley Viper turbojet engine.
The second prototype, first flown in July 1960, was powered by the Czech-designed M701 engine, which was to become the standard installation.
In 1961, the L-29 was entered in a competitive design evaluation to find a new Warsaw pact basic/advanced jet trainer to replace the piston-engine trainer fleet. The other competitors were the Russian Yakovlev Yak-30 and the Polish TS-11 Iskra. The L-29 won and subsequently became the standard trainer in all Eastern-bloc counties except Poland.
The first production Delfin rolled off the assembly line in April 1963, and production continued for more than 11 years, a huge statement of its success. More than 2,000 were eventually supplied to the Soviet air force, and 400 more to the Czech air force. Others were supplied to Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary and Romania.
Straightforward, rugged and easy to fly, the L-29 was ideal as both a primary jet trainer and as an advanced combat/weapons trainer. The Delfin was later exported to several other nations including Egypt and Indonesia.
Relationships were developed in Bulgaria by the founders of the Cold War Museum and plans were made to travel to Bulgaria to acquire aircraft. The Dallas Saloon, a popular watering hole is seen here with the ever present Communist Party "minder" in the left foreground.
Retired by the Bulgarian Air Force in favor of the L-39ZA, Albatros, the aircraft were made available to the contingent from Lancaster.
It was considered an excellent lead in to the MIG15, the MIG 17 and even the MIG 19. With similar flight design characteristics, it was the perfect platform for both flight training and maintenance training for these high performance (for their time) aircraft. In keeping with the Soviet common platform theme, the instrument and cockpit layout was nearly identical to the fighters these pilots would transition into after the completion of flight training.
An interesting note regarding flight training in Bulgaria. The flight regimen was strict and relentless. Aerobatics, combat maneuvering, formation work and gunnery were trained to high standards, and were in fact, the "washout" markers for pilot advancement. The one thing not taught or practiced in initial pilot training was LANDINGS. Yes, that's right, the student pilots went through the entire flight training syllabus without making a landing. The theory was that landings were the most difficult of the maneuvers and had the highest potential for accidents. Therefore, landings were to be trained after achieving wings and moving to advanced training. A suspicious mind might also think it might prevent an unauthorized solo flight to the west.
A small number of a single-seat version, the L-29A Delfin Akrobat, was produced, but it never caught on. In recent years, the L-29 has become popular on the jet warbird market, mostly in the USA, but also in England, Italy and South Africa.
With the large number of aircraft available, the group was able to pick and choose the best ones for shipment. Eventually, 18-25 L-29's called Lancaster airport home for a period of time until dispersed by sale or transfer to other locations.