Farnborough Air Show

Korean Black Eagles Soar, but Not Over Farnborough

 - July 13, 2012, 9:17 AM

The Korean T-50 jet aerobatic team has been wowing the crowds at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford this weekend. But Farnborough airshow-goers have been denied the chance to see their dynamic eight-ship display. Only a solo performance by one of the Korean-built supersonic trainers is being allowed here.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) went to extraordinary lengths to perform in the UK this summer. In early May, 10 of the jets were dismantled for airfreighting to Manchester by Korean Air Cargo 747 freighters. They were taken by road to RAF Leeming for reassembly and test flights. There followed a private display at RAF Scampton, home of the Red Arrows, who were reportedly very impressed. The Black Eagles then flew on both days at the RAF Waddington airshow, before moving on to RAF Fairford for the RIAT show.

At a validation display there last Thursday witnessed by AIN, spectators applauded spontaneously as the black-white-and-yellow jets rehearsed a dynamic routine that included multiple splits and rejoins during a total of 22 maneuvers. Unique among jet aerobatic teams, the Black Eagles display includes a syncro pair plus two solos. After the first split, these aircraft perform various solo, two- and three-ship maneuvers, including a delightful tracing of the ROKAF roundel in blue-and-white smoke. Two of them temporarily rejoin the core four-ship before breaking away again during a downward bomb burst. The sky reverberates to the sound of eight powerful GE F404 engines as the jets maneuver individually. “It looks dangerous, but we make repositioning calls by radio to keep each other informed,” team commander Lt. Col. Kim Young Hwa commented to AIN.

Kim said the Black Eagles reformed on the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50B in 2009, having previously flown, in turn, F-5As (1967-78) and A-37Bs (1994-2007). The pilots are all flight instructors with at least 800 hours’ fast jet experience. The Black Eagles are a full-time team that has performed 150 times in Korea since their routine was approved in April last year.

So why aren’t they performing here at Farnborough? “Given our location, which is surrounded by built-up areas, there are very stringent rules in force,” Farnborough International Ltd. (FIL) flying display director Rod Dean told AIN. In recent years, he continued, only the Red Arrows have been allowed to fly here. Dean explained that the current rules had been established when the UK Ministry of Defence was still running the airfield. Therefore, the FIL management and Flying Control Committee turned down the Korean request for the Black Eagles to appear here.

So how come the Breitling L-39 jet aerobatic team has been allowed to perform this week. “We’re in the early stages of trying to expand the envelope,” Dean said. He explained that Breitling is a civilian team that adjusted its routine to comply with the Farnborough rules. Well-rehearsed military jet aerobatic teams don’t usually make changes to their act; it might create a safety issue, rather than resolving one, he implied.

“Much as we wanted to invite the Black Eagles, we had already made a safety decision to expand incrementally,” he said. The Koreans had been informed of the decisions many months ago, he added.

However, after the Black Eagles leave Fairford this morning, they are being allowed to make one formation flypast here–at 11:30. Three of the eight jets will then peel off and land–one for static display, one for the solo flying display and one spare. The other five will fly on to RAF Leeming, where they await disassembly and return to Korea. What a pity.