Taiwan Flies Indigenous Advanced Trainer

 - June 11, 2020, 11:27 AM
The first AT-5 Brave Eagle takes to the air for the first time at Ching Chuan Kang air base, ahead of a formal start to flight trials scheduled for June 22. (Photo: Taiwan Ministry of National Defense)

The first example of the Taiwanese AT-5 advanced jet trainer (AJT) has flown for the first time. The maiden flight of the first of two flying prototypes, “A1”, took place on June 10 at Ching Chuan Kang air base, the Ministry of National Defense announced. Built by the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), the AT-5 prototype flew for around 20 minutes, with its undercarriage extended throughout the flight. It was escorted by two examples of the two-seat F-CK-1D fighter upon which the AT-5 is based.

According to the state-owned Central News Agency, the flight was “the first of three days of tests being conducted by the air force before an official test flight is held on 22 June at the air base.” CNA further reported that “[the air force] has previously said the AJT has already cleared the required pre-flight dynamic and static tests.” Those static tests were conducted by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) on two static test airframes.

The Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) is to procure 66 AT-5s to equip two units. One is currently based at Kangshan flying the AIDC AT-3 advanced trainer, and the other is at Taitung flying Northrop F-5E/Fs on weapons/fighter lead-in training. Both types are nearing the end of their service lives. Production of the AT-5 is due to start by the end of 2021 and run through 2026.

Taiwan committed to the development of an indigenous aircraft to fulfill its trainer needs in February 2017, having earlier flirted with acquiring either the KAI T-50 or Leonardo M-346. At the time the new Taiwanese trainer was known as the Blue Magpie. Aircraft A1 was unveiled in a ceremony on September 24, 2019, in which it was named Yung Yin (Brave Eagle) by President Tsai Ing-wen.

Development of the AT-5 was led by NCSIST, which engineered a simplified version of the two-seat F-CK-1D Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter. Whereas the IDF is powered by two Honeywell/ITEC F125s with afterburner, the AT-5 has similar but non-afterburning F124s. AIDC built 130 IDFs for the RoCAF, which entered service between 1994 and 1999. Between the mid-2000s and 2018, the fleet underwent an upgrade from F-CK-1A/B standard to F-CK-1C/D with improved avionics, range, and load-carrying ability.