Dubai Airshow

China’s new L-15 trainer arrives on the world stage

 - November 14, 2009, 3:53 AM
Appearing for the first time outside China, the L-15 Falcon is at Dubai to promote its capabilities here in a region that offers significant market potential for advanced trainers. At the same time, the resurgent AVIC organization is highlighting its ability to provide total training solutions for modern air arms.

Developed by the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group (HAIG), based in Nanchang in Jiangxi province, the L-15 was first shown in full-scale mockup form at the 2004 Zhuhai airshow. The first prototype flew at HAIG’s Qingyunpu airfield on March 13, 2006. It was to be powered by the planned Russian Ivchenko Progress/Salut/MotorSich AI-222-25 turbofan, but delays with this engine meant that it took to the air powered by two Lotarev/PSLM DV-2 engines. AI-222s were fitted to the second flying prototype (03) when it made its first flight on May 10, 2008. On June 8 this year the third aircraft (05) flew, and it is this machine that is on display here.

Hongdu developed the L-15 with some assistance from Yakovlev, and the aircraft bears a superficial resemblance to the Yakovlev Yak-130 and Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346. The design’s large leading-edge extensions and tall fin give good angle-of-attack capability, a valuable feature for instructing pilots destined for maneuverable fighters. Four underwing pylons and wingtip missile rails provide the L-15 with an impressive weapons capability for either training or a light combat role. It has a modern glass cockpit, HOTAS controls and a quadruple redundant flight control system.

There are two configurations being developed, the first being the advanced jet trainer (AJT) with non-afterburning engines represented here at Dubai. A lead-in fighter trainer version is shortly to begin flight test, fitted with afterburning AI-222-25F engines to give a top speed of Mach 1.4.

Development of the L-15 was initiated in response to a Chinese requirement for a modern trainer to match the air force’s new generation of fighters, such as the Chengdu J-10 and Sukhoi Su-30. For this requirement it is in contention with the Guizhou JL-9, a cheaper, less advanced and more readily available alternative based on a JJ-7 (two-seat MiG-21 derivative) airframe, but with a redesigned forward fuselage.

However, the L-15’s more modern approach is seen as having greater export potential, particularly when seen as part of a wider training package. Hongdu also builds the K-8/JL-8 basic jet trainer and produces a range of ground training aids from full simulators to computer-based tools. For export, the company is offering combinations of its products, from stand-alone equipment packages to those designed to take students from the beginning of their flying instruction right through to advanced weapons and tactical operations.