The continuing saga of my Aero L-29

By Martin Mattes 

Last year Transport Canada had approved the registration and importation of the aircraft but it actually took well over a year, more than 50 phone calls and about 100 e-mails to finally get it registered C-GXZX into Limited Class. 

I wasn’t going to spend anymore money on the bird because until it was registered it wouldn’t have been worth any more than scrap metal.  

In the meantime I did have it assembled. To aid in assembly I searched the Internet for L-29 experts in the U.S. and found this website Sent them an email and got a response the next day. 

I called the number and spoke with Mike Bewley. From our brief conversation he was definitely an L-29 Guru, having assembled nearly a dozen birds and with more than 220 L-29 flying hours, he was my man. 

He quoted me $600U.S./day plus expenses and airfare. I asked, “Are you available next week?” He said he’d call me back since he was newly married and wanted to check it out with his wife. 

Expecting not to hear from him for a few days, the phone rang in five minutes, “I’m available whenever you want me!”

I picked Mike up early on Monday morning at Lester B. Pearson Airport and couldn’t help but like him right away, after the usually introductions he said to me (with a southern Texas drawl), “Let’s go build a jet!”  

On the ride to the maintenance hangar he mentioned how he wasn’t sure if he should have brought his GLOCK (I had to ask him what a GLOCK was) and than went on to tell me how he usually carries two hand guns on him while out and about in Dallas. 

I explained to him it would not have gone over well with Canada Customs and Airport Security. 

He was surprised we spoke English in this part of the country. I again, explained most of the French is spoken in Quebec (you know how those Americans are with their Canadian geography). He may not have been familiar with Canada but it sure sounded like he knew everything about Aero L-29’s.

Mike suggested I build a wooden jig to cradle the main fuselage before he came up which I did. Day one went well, joining the cockpit to the main fuselage. However, we soon realized we didn’t have enough metric wrenches so I ran out and bought some more for all AME’s. 

Mike made us aware that the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe box) was explosive (it has a self destruct mechanism) and we had to removed it from the square hole in the nose. Mitch, one of the Canadian AME’s found the ejection seat charges were still in the cockpit and secured them (they look like a mortar shells).        

The plan was to have this baby’s engine running by end of the week. Mike wanted to take it test flying - he didn’t understand how Transport Canada works here. 

On day two we started hanging the turbine. We ran into a few snags but finally got them sorted out. To my disappointment we had noted the intake vanes on the turbine were nicked and corroded. TBO was 500 and this engine only had 224 hours and had last flown in 2004.  I had a new engine on order but we decided to hang the engine anyway to test all the systems. 

Day three, with the engine on, they connected all the electrics, tested the electrical systems and jacked the bird and extended the gear. Mike blew the gear down with the emergency pneumatic extension system - they went down with the bang of a gun shot.  

We were getting close to doing an engine run but Mike first wanted to test the fire suppression system. 

I wasn’t able to take Mike out for dinner until the evening of the third day. I had brought him a bottle of Crown Royal. He said, “Thanks, bourbon is my favourite.” 

I explained, “No its Rye Whiskey, Jack Daniels is Bourbon….” He maintained that Crown Royal was bourbon - who am I to argue, he was doing an exceptional job assembling my plane. 

I picked him up at his hotel that night for dinner and he poured us “bourbon.”  When I finished mine, he poured himself another and said, let’s go. As we headed out of the hotel room he carried his glass, I assumed we were going to the lobby when he went right out the front door. I said, “Sorry Mike but you’re really not allowed to have open liquor in the car.” 

He said, ”In Texas it’s no problem as long as you are not driving…..” than he went on to say how naked he felt without his GLOCK and continued with a story when he was forced to pull out his GLOCK in anger.

Dinner entailed some of the most interesting L-29 flying stories I am sure I will ever hear or experience. On the way back to the hotel it started to snow and Mike went on how he had never driven in snow before.

On Day four Mike was a little late coming to the hangar and I was worried he got in an accident in the now 4 inches of slippery snow. It turns out he didn’t know how to clear the windshield. He had never done it before, complaining his hand was burning from the cold while he cleared the windshield. He didn’t realize till later there was a snow brush in the back of the car. 

He also mentioned he couldn’t help but do a few donuts in a snow covered parking lot for the first time in his life! 

Throughout the week we all kept speculating on the name painted on the cockpit, Natalia Gynku. I had asked my Russian translator gal Svetlana (I had hired her to translate all the log books. The logs made had mention of TOP SECRET flights to ENCODED destinations from high ranking pilots) to translate it for me. She said it sounded like a name. We speculated maybe it was a General’s girl friend or wife’s name?

That night I got the idea to punch the name into Google and this is what came up. “Natalia Gynku” a Russian Super Model had been flying that very same aircraft, she was an ex-military pilot with 98 hours on this L-29 and she had plenty of flight time on various YAKs.’ Months later she actually responded to my e-mail where she referred to the L-29 as a “Him.”

In my response I told her that the L-29 was now a “she” and that we refer to planes in Canada in the female gender, but I did invite her to fly her old Bird if she ever made it to Canada. I know, I’m a dreamer! 

Originally I was going to paint over the name, but since a Russian Super Model used to fly it, might as well keep her name on - makes for a good story. Isn’t that what it’s all about - good stories?    

Next morning when I told the guys at the hangar, Mike said, “I thought I smelled perfume in the cockpit.”

Near the end of Day four excitement and anticipation filled the hangar when we pulled her out to fire her up - a crowd gathered. There was a dozen or so grown adults (even my dad showed up for the event) who giggled like kids when we fired her up. All systems go and all systems worked perfectly. 

The joke of the day was we had a new runway snow remover - it was Dec. 5, 2005. 

The plan was now to wait for the new engine to arrive and have Mike come back to do the final inspection with Transport Canada. We were also required to come up with a maintenance training plan for the local AME’s Mitch and Dave. 

A Yak-52 which I recently purchased was close to being shipped from Russia, so I had the new L-29 turbine shipped in the same container. It only made sense for Mike to also have a new engine come in the same container. They arrived in big green egg-like containers on March 20, 2006.  

I recently met a lovely lady named Sheri and she wanted to come down for the unloading of the Yak. This also gave me an opportunity to show her the L-29 for the first time.

When she saw the jet she said to me, “Why do you want to own one of these?  Are you actually going to fly it (saying it like, why would any sane person want to do that)?  

Now having known me almost a year, she now gets it. But she still didn’t talk to me for a weekend when she found out I was doing 250 km/h on my Hyabusa on sunny afternoon and then shortly thereafter she asked me how fast the L-29 flew? My response, “385Knots,” got me a few more hours of silence. So I told her I would name the Yak, “Sheri Baby.” She’s talking to me again.

Since I was still waiting for the registration for the L-29 we started on the Yak-52, I got that registration in three weeks. Assembly was straight forward but about five key components needed to start the engine were missing, so here I wait for another shipment from Russia. By end of September the parts still weren’t here.

I hadn’t been to one air show all year so my daughter and I attended the Sarnia Airshow.  My motive was to give my daughter the flying bug (it only lasted five minutes). But the show re-lit my fire.

The following week I flew to Dallas, Texas to fly Mike’s L-29. We flew all day, completed my type rating and even got in some aerobatic training.

While checking on the status of my parts, my Russian aircraft broker offered me an L-39 Albatross for a price I shouldn’t refuse, but I must have rocks in my head even thinking about buying a third plane before either one of my other birds are flying yet.

But then again, with three aircraft I can always tell the ladies I own a “Fleet” of planes. Remember, it’s all about the stories. To be continued….