KAI T-50 Golden Eagle

Aircraft Profile
T-50 first prototype 001 at the formal rollout.
(photo, Lockheed Martin)

Development

Although increasingly well known for it’s ships, cars and consumer electronics goods, South Korea also possesses a thriving aerospace industry. An industry which cut its teeth on component manufacture and licenced production has now produced its second Korean-designed aircraft, the T-50 Golden Eagle. That this aircraft should be a supersonic combat aircraft demonstrates the breadth of South Korea’s capability and the extent of its ambition.

Korean Air Lines (KAL) was the first company in South Korea to be involved in aerospace, establishing facilities in 1979 to carry out depot level maintenance of USAF aircraft based in South Korea and the Pacific. Daewoo, Hyundai and Samsung established similar capabilities soon afterwards. In 1981, KAL was contracted to assemble the Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs ordered by the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF). Korean industry subsequently won contracts to produce a wide range of components and sub-assemblies for Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Lockheed Martin – amongst others – and won praise for the high quality of workmanship evident in the delivered items. In 1988, development of South Korea’s first locally-designed aircraft, the Daewoo KT-1 Woong-Bee was initiated. This PC-9 look-alike turboprop trainer first flew in 1991 and entered service with the RoKAF in 2000. In the meantime, Samsung was awarded prime contractor status in the Korean Fighter Programme, under which 108 F-16s were licenced-built for the RoKAF. The contract specified extensive technology transfer to Korean industry, resulting in the last 72 aircraft being wholly built in South Korea.

In 1992, initial design studies were launched by South Korea’s Defence Development Agency and Samsung into the development of an indigenous jet trainer/light attack aircraft to replace the T-38, Hawk and F-5 in RoKAF service. The designation KTX-2 (Korean Trainer, Experimental 2) was assigned to the project. Substantial input into the design was made by General Dynamics (later taken over by Lockheed Martin) under the offset agreement negotiated for the F-16 contract.

In mid 1995 the basic external layout was agreed, but the project stalled at the end of the year as the gathering Asian Financial Crisis mean that available government funding could not now cover the remainder of the project – a foreign partner was essential to carry on. Several major aerospace companies showed interest, but none proved willing to invest their own money. Eventually, Lockheed Martin took the decision to upgrade its existing involvement from that of design consultant to full partner. On 3 July 1997, the South Korean government approved continuation of the project. Later in July, Lockheed Martin signed a formal agreement with Samsung under which it took responsibility for the Fly-By-Wire flight control system, avionics integration, wing design and supply of the APG-167 radar.

In October 1997, the contract to build and test six prototypes was received – including two static test airframes. Detailed design was now able to proceed rapidly and in August 1999 the external shape of the KTX-2 was frozen, allowing manufacturing drawings to start being released.

As part of the country’s economic reforms, Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd (KAI) was formed in October 1999 from the amalgamation of the aerospace divisions of Samsung, Daewoo and Hyundai. The other major South Korean aerospace manufacturer, Korean Air Lines remained outside of the main industry grouping.

In February 2000 it was announced that the KTX-2 had been renamed the T-50/A-50 Golden Eagle. The T-50 Golden Eagle designation being applied to an Advanced Jet Training variant, and A-50 Golden Eagle to an armed Light Attack/Fighter Lead In Trainer variant. Final assembly of the first T-50 prototype began on 15 January 2001, and it was formally rolled out on 31 October 2001. The maiden flight was achieved on 20 August 2002, with flight testing continuing until mid 2005.

The Golden Eagle bears a close resemblance to the F-16 – not really surprising when you consider its origins and the intended role of training RoKAF pilots to fly the F-16 – although it is actually about 80% the size of an F-16. Several design features are shared with its bigger brother, the most noticeable of which is the blended mid-set wing, complete with leading edge root extensions (LERX) and rear ‘shelf’ fairings ending in F-16-style split airbrakes. Sweepback is only applied to the wing leading edge, and missile launch rails are located at the wing tips. In a departure from F-16 influence, the engine air intakes are located at the fuselage sides, just below the wing LERX in a similar manner to those on the F/A-18.

The two crew sit in a tandem stepped cockpit equipped with two large Multi-Function Displays (MFDs), a modern wide-angle Head-Up Display (HUD) and full hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls. The Lead In Fighter Trainer and Attack variants will be equipped with a Lockheed Martin APG-167 radar in the nose and a M61 20 mm cannon in the port wing root. The incorporation of many of the latest-technology but ‘off the shelf’ components and systems within the design is intended to deliver a capable but efficient, reliable and easy to maintain aircraft.

The Golden Eagle already has a production order for 50 T-50 trainers and 44 A-50 Fighter Lead In trainers from the RoKAF. Further domestic orders may follow, to allow replacement of the F-5 and F-4 in RoKAF service. The type also has obvious export potential – particularly among the ever growing number of F-16 operators. It’s manoeuvrability and advanced systems are designed to prepare future pilots to fly the next generation fighters such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Lockheed Martin F-35, while its combat capability allows dual-role adaptability. Potential rivals, such as the EADS Mako and Aermacchi M-346 have yet to secure any orders, while the class-leading but slow-selling BAE SYSTEMS Hawk may have reached the limit of its development potential. With the marketing clout of Lockheed Martin behind it, the future of the Golden Eagle is sure to be bright.

Front view of T-50 001 with
‘Golden Eagle’ name still concealed
Impression of the T-50 in rollout colours
(All photos Lockheed Martin)

Variants

Requirement Specification: ?
Manufacturers Designation: ?

Development History:
KTX-2 Initial project designation.
T-50A Initial designation for unarmed Advanced Jet Trainer version.
T-50B Initial designation for Fighter Lead In Trainer version, with APG-67 radar and M61 internal gun. Later incorporated into A-50 version.
T-50 Golden Eagle Official designation for unarmed Advanced Jet Trainer version. Also known as T-50 AJT.
A-50 Golden Eagle Official RoKAF designation for armed version with APG-67 radar and M61 internal gun. Also known as T-50 LIFT. Fighter Lead In Trainer/Light Attack variant.
This impression clearly shows the air intakes This view shows T-50s resemblance to the F-16
(All photos Lockheed Martin)

History

Key Dates:
1992    Initial design studies for KTX-2 launched.
July 1994    Overall design layout finalised.
mid 1995    Preliminary design completed.
July 1996    Lockheed Martin chosen as foreign partner.
3 July 1997    Production programme approved by South Korean government.
17 July 1997    Lockheed Martin formally signs production agreement with Samsung.
24 October 1997    Contract to build six prototypes received.
10 November 1997    US Congress approves technology export licence.
12-16 July 1999    Preliminary design review conducted.
August 1999    Overall design frozen.
October 1999    KAI formed from the aerospace divisions of three Korean companies.
February 2000    KTX-2 renamed T-50/A-50 Golden Eagle.
31 July – 4 August 2000    Critical design review conducted.
15 January 2001    Final assembly of first prototype begun.
31 October 2001    Official roll out of first prototype**
20 August 2002    Maiden flight of first T-50 prototype.
8 November 2002    Maiden flight of second T-50 prototype.
19 February 2003    T-50 prototype exceeds Mach 1 for the first time.
29 August 2003    Maiden flight of first T-50 LIFT (A-50) prototype.
4 September 2003    Maiden flight of second T-50 LIFT (A-50) prototype.
late 2003    Start of series production.
mid 2005    End of flight test programme.
October 2005    First production T-50 rolled out.
2010    Last production A-50 for RoKAF delivered.

** Air International quotes 28 September 2001 as the rollout date, but this was only the anticipated rollout date in January 2001. Lockheed Martin press releases quote the October date.

Operators

Military Operators

South Korea – Air Force (94 T-50 & A-50 planned)

Government Agencies

South Korea – T-50 Combined Test Force (2 T-50 & 2 A-50 planned)

Civilian Operators

None  
T-50 001 being rolled out T-50 001 after the official naming ceremony
(All photos Lockheed Martin)

Specifications

KAI T-50 Golden Eagle
Crew: Two
Dimensions: Length 42 ft 7 in (12.98 m); Height 15 ft 8.25 in (4.78 m); Wing Span 30 ft 1 in (9.17 m); Wing Area TBA sq ft (TBA sq m)
Engines: One General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofan rated at 11,925 lb st dry (53.07 kN) and 17,775 lb st (79.1 kN) with reheat
Weights: Empty Equipped 14,200 lb (6,441 kg); Maximum Take-off 26,400 lb (11,975 kg)
Armament: (A-50 only) 20-mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon in port LERX with 208 rounds, wingtip launch rails for AIM-9 Sidewinder or similar missiles, four underwing hardpoints and one under-fuselage centre-line pylon.
Performance: Maximum level speed ‘clean’ Mach 1.4; Maximum rate of climb at sea level 27,000 ft/min (8225 m/min); Service ceiling 48,000 ft (14,630 m); Range with full fuel 1,000 nm (1,150 mls, 1,850 km)

Production

Design Centre

Head of Design Team: Not known
Design Office: KAI, Sachon, South Korea.

Manufacture

Korean Aerospace Industries
(KAI, Sachon, South Korea)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
T-50/A-50 prototypes 6* Sachon 2001-2003
T-50 50 Sachon late 2003-?
A-50 44 Sachon ?-2010
Total: 100    

* two T-50, two A-50 and two static test airframes.
Subcontractors: Wings (Lockheed Martin), Aft Fuselage (Korean Air Lines).

Total Produced: 100 a/c (planned)

Production List

To be added.

The first T-50 LIFT, with gun and radar fitted The second T-50 LIFT wears grey camouflage
(All photos Lockheed Martin)

More Information

Books

None yet published.

Magazines

Air International February 2002
Flight International various issues

Links

Korean Aerospace Industries
(Official KAI website)

Shop

Flight Simulator Models:
To be added.

Scale Models:
To be added.

Scale Drawings:
To be added.

Videos:

To be added.