Warplanes: Guerillas Form an Air Force

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May 10, 2007: In Sri Lanka, the rebel Tamil organization, the LTTE, has acquired an air force in the form of 2-5 light, single engine aircraft. Operating from roads in the northern part of the island, the LTTE aircraft have made two bombing raids so far, coming in just before dawn, and dropping a few hundred pounds of small bombs. Sightings indicate that the aircraft are Czech made Zlin 143 L aircraft (or related models). This is a single engine, four seat aircraft, that costs about $75,000 each. With a max takeoff weight of 1.3 tons, the aircraft could carry two pilots (or, in this case, one pilot and one bombardier) and about 400 pounds of bombs. The aircraft has a max speed of 262 kilometers an hour, and a cruising speed of 209 kilometers an hour. It can stay in the air for about six hours. This enables the LTTE aircraft to easily make it from a base in the north, to any target on the island. The Zlins have selected routes that avoid military bases, and thus decrease the chances of being detected and shot at.

The Z 143 needs about a thousand feet of hard surface (a road would do) to get airborne, and about 1,300 feet of road to land. Taking off in the post-midnight dark, the aircraft would be back by first light to land. The aircraft fly low, and thus avoid radar. Flying at night, they are even hard for anyone on the ground to spot. Dropping their bombs (out the copilots door or from improvised racks under the cabin) does not reveal the aircrafts location to anyone on the ground wanting to get a shot off. The bombs were improvised, metal cylinders filled with plastic explosives and steel balls. Each bomb appeared to weigh about a hundred pounds.

Fortunately for people on the ground, this bombing at night is not very accurate, and there has been little damage done so far. The aircraft go after large, well lit, targets (an army base and a fuel storage depot). The latter target could have been a spectacular success if any of the bombs ignited the fuel storage tanks below, but that did not happen. Previously, the LTTE had used light aircraft to move key commanders around (especially to and from bases in southern India) as well as carrying critical supplies (like medical stuff.) These bombing operations are mainly a propaganda exercise, carried out because the LTTE is up against the wall, and hard put to show any other kind of "victory."

 


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