Singapore Air Show

AIDC aims for greater role as aerospace sector supplier

 - January 28, 2010, 3:58 AM

Taiwan’s Aero Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) is bidding to achieve Tier 1 supplier status with the major aerospace OEMs. It is building the Taiwan Advanced Composites Center (TACC), a 538,000-sq-ft facility that will contain large new autoclaves, ply cutters and computer-controlled milling machines. AIDC already produces smaller composite parts, such as the co-cured frames for the cockpit of Sikorsky’s S-92 helicopter.

AIDC is best known for developing Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), and producing 130 of them from 1987 to 2000. But the government-owned company has diversified significantly from military work in the past 15 years. It has developed significant aerospace capability across-the-board, from high-speed machining to harness testing, and from structure analysis to system integration. A separate engine manufacturing facility in Kangshan offers core capabilities such as vacuum precision casting and plasma spray coating.

The company now has more than 60 certifications from the aerospace industry worldwide. In its largest single facility adjoining Ching Chuan Kang airbase near Taichung, AIDC is currently producing major subassemblies for the Airbus A321, Alenia C-27J, Bell 429, Bombardier Challenger 300, Learjet 45 and Sikorsky S-92. AIDC delivers most of these subassemblies complete with environmental, flight control and hydraulic systems, and harnesses. The company has been a risk-sharing partner in some programs–among them the EC 120 helicopter, for which it provides the tailboom including fenestron, communication panel and console.

AIDC is also providing the main-deck cargo door for the Boeing 757s being converted to freighter configuration by ST Aero. Smaller parts also emerge from here, such as rudders for the Dassault Falcon 900/2000 business jets, main landing gear doors for the Boeing 737 and main cabin doors for the 747. Recent contracts have included one from Mitsubishi for the design and supply of five parts for the MRJ.

The engine facility is now producing cases for the Pratt & Whitney F100 as well as the CFM56. Having built 325 F125 turbofans for the IDF program, AIDC now makes about half of the sister F124 engine for Honeywell. It is therefore hoping to profit from future sales of the Aermacchi M-346 jet trainer, powered by two of the F124s. AIDC also makes parts for the Honeywell AS907 turbofan, the GE CT7 turboshaft and the Rolls- Royce (ex-Allison) 601K industrial engine.    

It is not clear whether Taiwan’s unresolved political status is hindering AIDC’s ambition to become an even greater participant in the global aerospace industry. At the last Singapore Airshow, the organizers made AIDC erase nationalist symbols displayed on its stand, at the request of Chinese government officials. But an AIDC official told AIN recently that Taiwan’s relationship with mainland China had not affected business, and suggested that the company might even gain subcontracts for China’s forthcoming C919 airliner.  

The IDF still provides a major revenue stream for AIDC, since it provides total logistics support and depot maintenance for the jet. The company is now embarking on a mid-life update for more than half of the fleet (see box below).  
AIDC tried to interest the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) in an upgrade for its remaining 50 or so F-5E/F fighters, which have an advanced training role for Taiwan’s future fighter pilots. But the service prefers to acquire a new jet trainer that might also perform this role. The ROCAF currently uses a fleet of AT-3s, a jet trainer that was produced by AIDC in the 1980s with help from Northrop. A company official told AIN that AIDC is “ready and willing” to provide the new trainer, either by means of a new design that would benefit from the company’s IDF experience, or by coproduction of a foreign design. The ROCAF is apparently leaning toward the Korean T-50. This would be ironic, since that aircraft was designed with the help of many former AIDC engineers who left the company after the IDF development was completed.   

After 40 years of funding AIDC, the Taiwan government would like to privatize the company. At the same time, though, it requires AIDC to help in the development of a diversified aerospace industry in Taiwan. To achieve this, AIDC has divested tooling, fixtures, numerically controlled machinery and other technology to smaller local companies. The company has also been diversifying into wind power generation, photoelectric equipment, medical care equipment, railway systems integration, and vehicle dispatch and navigation systems.   

Upgrade of Taiwan’s Fighter Proceeding, but with Less Ambition

The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) has agreed a mid-life upgrade (MLU) for 70 F-CK-1A/B Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs), also known as the Ching-Kuo. AIDC is already test-flying the prototype conversion, but the company failed to secure the ROCAF’s support for a more ambitious upgrade designated the F-CK-1C/D, despite  building and flying two prototypes. Instead, the ROCAF is still hoping to persuade the U.S. government to supply 60 more Lockheed Martin F-16s that would replace some 50 F-1A/Bs now flying in the ROCAF’s 3rd Fighter Wing at Ching Chuan Kang airbase. The Ching Kuo MLU aircraft will fly in the other IDF wing, based at Tainan.

However, even the MLU represents a significant achievement for Taiwan. A new 32-bit digital mission computer has been designed in-country, and the IDF’s Golden Dragon GD-53 radar (based originally on the American APG-67) has been enhanced. There are new glass-cockpit displays, and new software has been developed, including the Operational Flight Program (OFP), thus freeing the ROCAF from dependence on U.S.-controlled source code. In total, the ROCAF is adopting eight of the 20 improvements that AIDC proposed.

The complete F-CK-1C/D package would have also provided increased payload and range, thanks to conformal fuel tanks and a beefed-up main landing gear. After seven years of development, the prototype F-1C single-seater first flew on Oct. 4, 2006, and was followed by a two-seat F-1D on Mar. 27, 2007. The successful test flights of these aircraft proved that Taiwan could develop a new-generation fighter, AIDC said.