Largest transport aircraft made in Czechoslovakia never went into serial production

Transport aircraft L-610

The L-610 was the largest transport aircraft constructed in Czechoslovakia. Due to a combination of developmental, economic and political factors, it never went into serial production. Today the plane is a rare museum piece.

In the late 1970s, following the success of the LET L-410 twin engine turboprop, the Soviet airline Aeroflot asked the LET factory in Kunovice, Uherské Hradiště, to design a replacement for the Antonov An-24 aircraft.

The resulting product, the L-610, was designed as a twin-engine turboprop aircraft powered by a new Czech engine, Walter M602, with a seating capacity of 40.

Pilot Stanislav Sklenář and Otomar Šimák from the Aviation Museum in Kunovice in the cockpit of L-610 | Photo: Michal Sladký,  Czech Radio

However, the engine development dragged, and, in the process, the technical specifications for the plane changed, further complicating its development. Eventually the 1,358 kW (1,822 shp) turboprop engines were finished and the prototype first took to the skies on December 28, 1988 with great fanfare and the shooting of a documentary about it called “Six degrees of freedom”.

Co-pilot Stanislav Sklenář was on the maiden flight of the L-610, which was to have become the pride of Czechoslovakia.

"The weather was not ideal at the time, but it was good enough for the flight. Everything worked beautifully and there were no hitches. We flew for about half an hour and then went in for a landing. We were very proud and people on the ground were cheering. I think it was a great success, considering that it was the largest aircraft made in Czechoslovakia.”

However, the plane was not born under a luck star. Only eight of the L-610 were produced and, unlike the previous L-410 model, this machine was to become no more than a rare museum piece.

Numerous factors contributed to the fact that the plane never went into serial production, among them delays with development and the fall of communism in 1989, which resulted in economic uncertainty regarding the factory’s future and funding issues.

In the late 1990s, it looked like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. The LET factory was purchased by the American based Ayres Corporation, and the L-610 was marketed as Ayres 7000. However, despite displaying the plane at airshows in Paris, Brazil, Singapore and the US, the company was unable to sell a single aircraft.

L-610 transport aircraft from LET Kunovice | Photo: Michal Sladký,  Czech Radio

The Ayres Corporation was forced into bankruptcy in 2001 and LET was purchased by fellow Czech aircraft manufacturer, Moravan Airplanes, but by then, the fate of the L-610 was sealed. The new owner decided to only continue production of the L-410. Fifteen years after its birth, the L-610 transport plane was written off.

Pilot Stanislav Sklenář was present on the last ever flight of the L-610 in 2000, flying from Brazil to the United States, where the new owner of the LET plant was based at the time.

Today the plane is on display in the Aviation Museum in Kunovice.