November 2, 2003
In late August, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has successfully completed flight tests of the T-50 Golden Eagle aircraft. An attack variant of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)/Lockheed Martin T-50, it is under consideration for export.
The T-50 tests was performed at Sachon Air Base, South Korea, the location of T-50 production and developmental flight-testing. Evaluation using both development test aircraft was performed not by test pilots but by five pilots from the ROKAF Training Command, who flew from both the front and rear seats of the jet. During the tests, there were no in-flight aborts and 92 percent of the flights resulted in no discrepancies being noted. Evaluated were typical training scenarios; instructor pilot ability to monitor and fly the aircraft during training; aircraft handling and performance characteristics gear up; takeoff and landing characteristics; and suitability of the aircraft to permit a direct transition of new pilots from the T-50 to a high-performance airplane such as the F-16.
Follow-on operational assessment flights (approximately 64 flights) are planned through 2005. These will assess operational capabilities of the current baselines of the advanced jet trainer and the lead-in fighter/attack trainer versions for international sales.
The first test flight of the T-50 occurred in August, 2002, at which time work was underway on the first six Aircraft: two for static testing; two for flight-testing; and two dedicated F/A-50 attack variants. The T-50, at an initial proposed cost of $18 million per copy, is an inexpensive entry into the world of high-performance (mach 1.4) aircraft with a 48,000-foot service ceiling and an 8,000-hour service life. The T-50 is a replacement for F-5-class fighters. Of the T-50's $2-billion development cost, 13 percent was borne by Lockheed Martin, 17 percent by KAI, and 70 percent by the South Korean government. The aircraft's prime role is to fulfill the air force's need to replace its Hawk Mk. 67 and T-38 trainers, with a secondary role as a fighter/attack aircraft. Lockheed last predicted a global market for 3,500 trainers over the next 30 years, of which 1,000 or so are expected to be produced by Seoul. The first test aircraft was completed in September, 2001 and test flights are scheduled to continue through 2005. Ninety-four aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to the ROKAF through 2010 -- half are to be trainers; half to be combat versions.
The T/A-50 is to be equipped with the Lockheed Martin AN/APG-67 multimode radar with an optional high-resolution synthetic aperture imaging capability to enhance navigation capabilities, target tracking over varying terrain, and surface attacks. Future growth may include auto terrain following, advanced aerial target identification, and combined and interleaving of modes.
Of the other trainers existing or in development in the world, only the EADS/Mikoyan Mako is planned as a competitive (fully supersonic) platform. If all proceeds according to plan, production of T-50 and F/A-50 export aircraft would begin in 2005. -- K.B. Sherman