The O’Dells The South
Looking through the giant sliding doors of the southern Illinois airport hangar, the view resembles that of many airfields in the Midwest: private planes are flying; an air ambulance helicopter arrives for a landing and crosses the runway; and the leaves of the corn plants ready for harvest rustle in the breeze.
Inside the hangar, the scene is unlike almost any other aviation facility in the area.
Fighter planes and pieces of fighter planes fill the building.
These planes – specifically the Czechoslovak-made Aero L-39 Albatros trainer planes – are in the Jackson County hangar for a specific reason: to be restored, maintained, modified or repaired by Code 1 Aviation, a national company. specializing in the maintenance and restoration of Aircraft.
“We specialize in war jets, older military planes, primarily the L-39,” says Brian Profancik, director of the company’s southern Illinois site. Code 1 – the name comes from a military aviation term for an aircraft in perfect condition, ready to fly – also has facilities in Rockford, Illinois; Gasden, Alabama and Melborne, Florida.
Profancik explained that the L-39 is a popular aircraft for aviation enthusiasts, air racers and companies contracted by the Department of Defense to provide fighter jets and “enemy” pilots for training exercises. with American military aviators. The planes were first developed by Aero Vodochody in the late 1960s and have become the most widely used trainer aircraft on the planet, used by more than two dozen air forces.
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“A lot of our clients use them to train with our active duty forces and the guys who operate the aircraft are retired military personnel for air combat and air-to-ground exercises, so they are in a real adversary plane. . It’s the best training you can get, ”he said.
He said there are currently 250 to 300 L-39 aircraft registered in the country, about half of which are flying. Many of them have gone under Code 1’s microscope. The company also helps potential buyers find jets to buy. A used Albatross can be bought for under $ 300,000, but they go fast, both in the market and in the air. Original production specifications indicate that the L-39’s top speed is 466 mph.
“We do absolutely everything with these planes. We modify them, we customize them, we import and export them for flight training. We even paint complete planes here, ”he explained. “Of course, we do all the support that goes with it: scheduled maintenance, annual inspections, etc. We also supply parts to the whole nation.
Code 1 also provides ground training and maintenance training for those interested in the L-39. The company can even teach future pilots how to fly the subsonic jet.
Military contractors aren’t the only customers of Code 1. He said pilots who participate in air races often look to the company for lighter components and modifications to give them even more speed. Many Code 1 customers participate in the annual Reno Air Races, a multi-day event featuring competitions and speed demonstrations. Profancik said it supports most of the L-39 competitors. The company works closely with the FAA to ensure safety.
“The FAA trusts us and we work with them, always raising the level of professionalism in the maintenance of these planes,” he said.
And then there are also the jetsetters.
“It’s the individual owners who have the money,” Profancik adds with a smile. “They buy them, then they want custom paint jobs, the latest avionics, and they come in every year for all the new upgrades. “
The company is reaching out to all of the above groups, designing improvements and advancements from the tarmac – things like new tips for jet wings to cut air resistance, smoke systems and other systems, testing everything on company-owned L-39s, even doing shakedown flights, making warbirds with weird or international markings can often be seen in the skies over Jackson County.
“There are times when I will do a test flight and I will be inverted over Carbondale,” he adds. “I’m up there looking for my home.”
Back on the ground, Profancik and the six other Code 1 employees in southern Illinois understand the role they play in keeping the past alive and flying vintage planes. History is all around them in the shed in front of the farm fields.
“This one served in the East German Air Force,” he said, raising and touching the wing of one of the seven warbirds in the hangar. “It was repainted, but you can still see where the original diamond marks were. We’re here to fly these planes and make sure people can always enjoy them. It is not a question of money; it is a passion to keep them in the air.