Re-edited and reprinted from Feb 2001 Airport Journals
The deaths of Michael Chowdry, president, owner and chief executive officer of Atlas Air, Inc., and Jeff Cole, aerospace editor of The Wall Street Journal, were the result of the crash of Chowdry’s L-39 aircraft. A private funeral for Chowdry was held on Jan. 27, 2001. He is survived by his wife, Linda, two elementary-age children and two grown stepchildren.
The L-39C two-seat Czech jet trainer was manufactured by Aero Vodochody— a joint stock company based in Prague. The craft, suitable for tactical attack missions, was used as a military jet trainer for the former Warsaw Pact nations prior to 1990. It’s still the standard jet trainer for many of the former Warsaw Pact countries and is operated by more than 25 air forces. It has also been used by Russia to train their cosmonauts.
It’s believed that the stand-alone canopy jettison system of the L-39 is the weakest link in the entire egress system, and has the highest potential for inadvertent deployment with the lowest beneficial gains of any other egress system component. This is partially due to the design features of the canopy jettison. On the L-39, a red canopy jettison handle is positioned on the right side of the frame – a normal canopy lock/unlock handle is also red, and is located on the left side.
The fact that both handles are red, and that both are located at approximately the same height and depth, can lead to accidental canopy jettison by an untrained person reaching for the wrong handle. Both handles are in a location where they could act as hand holds during acrobatic maneuvers—another cause for inadvertent canopy jettison.