Dubai Airshow

Korean T-50 displays fast-jet credentials

 - December 11, 2006, 10:41 AM

The Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle could capture a large proportion of future world orders for advanced jet trainers. This transpacific joint venture made its aerial debut at the Seoul Air Show last month, and is now taking to the international stage here at Dubai 2005 this week. It is the first new, supersonic purpose-built jet trainer to fly in 40 years. The Koreans are very proud of it.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is a state-owned aerospace company, created six years ago by merging the air and space activities of Daewoo, Hyundai and Samsung. Development of the T-50, together with production of 94 aircraft for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), is reported to be costing $6.2 billion. From Fort Worth, Texas, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. has contributed design, engineering and training system skills, plus subassemblies, and is now helping to market the aircraft abroad.

“There’s lots of interest in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia,” R.D. “Robie” Notestine, Lockheed Martin’s T-50 marketing head, told Aviation International News. “We can deliver aircraft for export within 27 months of an order, for a unit flyaway cost of about $22 million,” he added.

That is keen pricing for an aircraft that can also perform as a fourth-generation light attack fighter. In fact, 44 of the Golden Eagles for the ROKAF will be built to the A-50 standard, which adds a Lockheed Martin APG-67 multimode radar and an internally mounted 20mm gun. The Koreans initially intend to use the A-50 as a lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT), but may order additional copies for operational duties, as an F-5 replacement. The A-50 has seven store stations and can carry up to three external fuel tanks.

Meanwhile, the ROKAF will use the T-50 for Phase 3 of pilot training. Most air forces agree that the training of combat jet jockeys can be divided into four phases, where one is elementary, two is basic, three is advanced and four is the LIFT phase. But there is a perennial debate over whether the phase two aircraft should be a high-powered turboprop or a low-powered jet, and whether the phase three jet should be supersonic, or not.

“The wide performance envelope of the T-50, coupled with digital flight controls and fighter-like cockpit, promotes the smooth progression of the student through the subsonic, transonic and into the supersonic flight regimes,” argued Notestine. “We think that this aircraft could enable air forces to cut 40 flying hours from the F-16 pilot conversion course,” he added. Other air forces could dispense with the dedicated LIFT aircraft that they currently operate, such as the F-5.

The F-16 heritage of the T-50 is obvious, especially in planview. Less obvious is the relaxed static stability, the +8g/-3g structure, the dual active side-stick controllers, the maneuvering leading-edge flaps and the digital terrain system (a growth option). The aircraft is powered by a single GE F404 engine with full-authority digital engine control and a maximum thrust of 17,700 pounds. It can reach Mach 1.5 and an altitude of 55,000 feet.

Internationally, the T-50 is being marketed as a package which also includes simulators, academic courseware with computer-based instruction, and a common mission planning and debriefing system. Synthetic inputs to the aircraft’s avionic system are being developed, in order to challenge the student pilot inflight with a variety of scenarios.

The T-50 has enjoyed a seemingly smooth development. The first flight was in August 2002, not quite five years after the program kicked off. By September 2003, all four development aircraft were flying, the last two of these being the A-50 LIFT version. A total of 1,250 flights were scheduled for the test program, nearly all now accomplished. Construction of the first production aircraft began in December 2003, and it was rolled out last August from KAI’s well-equipped factory at Sacheon.   

The UAE Air Force previously expressed interest in the EADS Mako, designed to a similar “high-energy” trainer philosophy as the T-50. But EADS has not been able to launch the Mako, due to a lack of internal resources, coupled with European equivocation over a future common advanced training jet. In 2003-04, 12 European air forces paid for an industry study on such a program, and substantial savings were identified. But many vested interests are involved, not least in Italy, where Aermacchi has developed the M-346 to a different philosophy. The cost of acquiring and operating this transonic jet trainer is much lower, according to the Italians.

At the Paris Air Show last June, Greece signaled a desire to abandon the common European plan, when Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) (Stand E705) signed an MoU with KAI (Stand E605) and Lockheed Martin (E610). Theodore Damianos of HAI told AIN that the Greek Air Force urgently needs a new advanced jet trainer. The MoU allows the three parties to study Greek requirements, plus subassembly or coproduction options. With Greece as a possible bridgehead in Europe, KAI and Lockheed Martin could begin to make good on their prediction, that up to 600 T-50s and A-50s could be built for export.