KAI T-50 Golden Eagle is South Korea’s first indigenous supersonic aircraft and one of the world’s few supersonic trainers.
KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, a family of South Korean supersonic advanced trainers and light combat aircraft. This is South Korea’s first indigenous supersonic aircraft and one of the world’s few supersonic trainers. With many advantages, the TA-50 training aircraft and light fighter is becoming the key export product of the South Korean defense industry. Most recent, the Iraqi military is going to receive a new batch of South Korean KAI T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic advanced trainers and light combat aircraft under a deal struck between Baghdad and Seoul several years ago.
The Golden Eagle was designed based on the firm’s experience license-producing F-16 Fighting Falcons. First conceived in 1997, the Golden Eagle drew on design elements of the Falcon, and also received 13% of its funding from Lockheed Martin. It made its first flight in 2002 and entered active service with the Republic of Korea Air Force in 2005.
The T-50 trainers were deemed so successful and easy-handling that Korea Aerospace Industries decided to produce an upgraded version, the TA-50, that could do double duty as light attack plane with the ability to use precision-guided weapons and a more powerful radar. The T-50A was marketed as a candidate for the United States Air Force’s next-generation T-X trainer program but failed to win. Korea Aerospace Industries then pushed the design one step further with the FA-50, an airplane intended to serve as a cut-price supersonic fighter with fourth-generation avionics.
Compared to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the T-50 Golden Eagle has many design similarities with a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons. The trainer has seating for two pilots in a tandem arrangement. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots good visibility. The trainer has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against 4lb objects impacting at 400 knots.
The aircraft is equipped with Messier Dowty retractable tricycle-type landing gear. Each unit is single wheeled and fitted with oleo pneumatic shock absorbers. The main wheels are retracted into the trunks of the engine air intakes. The nose wheel retracts forward. The altitude limit is 14,600 metres, and airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service. There are seven internal fuel tanks with capacity of 2,655 litres, five in the fuselage and two in the wings. An additional 1,710 litres of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.
The T-50 Golden Eagle has digital fly-by-wire controls and hands on throttle and stick. The cockpit displays include two Honeywell multifunction displays, Honeywell instrumentation displays and a head-up display supplied by BAE Systems. The T-50 version is equipped with AN/APG-67 radar, it offers a variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground, sea-search and mapping modes, and compatibility with most weapons used by the US Air Force. TA-50 and FA-50 variants equipped with EL/M-2032 radar, an advanced pulse Doppler, suitable for air-to-air and air-to-surface modes.
The T-50 Golden Eagle is powered by a single General Electric turbofan engine, type F404-GE-102 license-produced by Samsung Techwin, with full authority digital electronic control. The engine has twin side-mounted air intakes on either side of the fuselage under the wing. This engine produces a maximum of 17,700lb of thrust with afterburner and attain speeds of up to Mach 1.5. This performance isn’t impressive compared to frontline jet fighters, but it’s still capable enough to do the job.
The TA-50 light attack variant has a three-barrel cannon version of the M61 Vulcan mounted internally behind the cockpit, which fires linkless 20 mm ammunition. The aircraft has seven external hardpoints for carrying weapons, one on the centreline under the fuselage, two hardpoints under each wing and an air-to-air missile launch rail at the two wingtips. Wingtip rails can accommodate the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, and a variety of additional weapons can be mounted to underwing hardpoints. Compatible air-to-surface weapons include the AGM-65 Maverick missile, Hydra 70 and LOGIR rocket launchers, CBU-58 and cluster bombs.
While the TA-50 air-to-air capabilities are not really feature-complete at present, but with the FA-50 version, potential upgrades to the engines, radar and especially air-to-air missiles suggest that the Golden Eagle may mature significantly in capability over time. The FA-50 already seems poised to see significant use in the coming decade based on outstanding orders for the aircraft. The Republic of Korea Air Force flies over a hundred Golden Eagles. The Iraqi Air Force has received 12 of a total 24 FA-50s in a $1.1 billion dollar contract.
The Philippines has received four of its order of twelve FA-50s. Manila has yet to acquire the Maverick and Sidewinder guided missiles the airplane requires to make full use of its capabilities. Indonesia finished receiving 16 TA-50 jets in 2014 at $25 million apiece. They are intended to serve in the light attack role as well as training. Finally, Thailand received four T-50 trainers in 2018 to replace its old L-39 Albatrosses. There are also many other potential buyers from Asia and South America, signaling a bright future for South Korea’s Golden Eagle.