A Purpose-Built Trainer for Tomorrow's Pilots

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T-50A for Advanced Pilot Training

Purpose-built Beginnings
As conversations surrounding the development of a new trainer in Korea began to surface in the early 1990’s, the focus wasn’t just on a trainer for today, but also for tomorrow. A joint development between Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the T-50 Golden Eagle was designed and built to meet the advanced pilot training needs of the Republic of Korea Air Force, while maintaining international export possibilities. In 2011, Indonesia ordered sixteen aircraft, called the T-50i. In late 2013, the Government of Iraq ordered twenty-four T-50IQ aircraft, along with an integrated training center and ancillary support elements. In March 2014, the Philippines contracted for twelve FA-50PH variants of the aircraft. The government of Thailand is the latest customer, placing an initial order of four T-50 aircraft in September 2015.

To date, there are more than 150 T-50s flying — 125,000 flight hours and counting. More than 1,800 pilots have been trained using the T-50 training system. A fighter/attack variant is currently in production, serving as the foundation for the T-50A offering to the U.S. Air Force for their Advanced Pilot Training (APT) program.

Foregoing Clean Sheet for Proven Flight Hours
In 2012, initial draft requirements for a new U.S. Air Force advanced pilot training aircraft to replace the aging T-38 Talon were released. Known further as T-X, the document listing 100+ requirements was compiled carefully to ensure the T-X family of systems could close the training gap left by the T-38, while providing flexibility for the future. In March 2015, the complete list of T-X requirements was released. Three key performance characteristics are noted as paramount: aero performance, simulation fidelity, and aircraft life cycle cost.

Presented the option of a clean sheet or currently fielded offering, major industry players quickly stepped forward. Working from a clean sheet design, Boeing and Saab have teamed up for their trainer bid, while Lockheed Martin and KAI partner once again to offer an upgraded T-50 based on South Korea’s FA-50, known as the T-50A. Raytheon teamed with Leonardo to offer the T-100 while Northrop Grumman teamed with BAE on a clean sheet design. Recently, however, both the Raytheon and Northrop teams have withdrawn from the competition.

The T-50A for Advanced Pilot Training
Understanding the U.S. Air Force’s requirements and the importance placed on a smooth transition of the pilot training pipeline, the T-50A is easy to fly, utilizes a cost efficient ground-based training system, maximizes world-wide logistics support for long-term sustainment, and implements a state-of-the-art avionics suite.

T-50A Pilot Perspective A view from the T-50A backseat as the pilot awaits takeoff.

Pairing the T-50 Golden Eagle’s proven flight history with today’s Ground-Based Training System, which contains an array of innovative technologies to provide options for “offloading” aircraft training tasks into the simulation environment, the T-50A provides time and cost effective training options. Operating from an anthropometrically designed 5th Generation cockpit, the T-50A handles similar to the F-16, F-22 and F-35; creating better pilots by enabling them to focus their airmanship skills on the mission through improved aero performance, digital flight controls/fly-by-wire and NextGen air traffic management systems.

The T-50A team brings together extensive experience in world-class, worldwide logistics support of its products. Lockheed Martin, Korea Aerospace Industries, General Electric and an international supplier network stand ready to provide all aspects of support for the T-50A training system. Support includes logistics planning, site surveys, base- and depot-level repair shops, spares provisioning and replenishment, support equipment, electronic technical manuals and portable maintenance readers. It also includes technical services, logistics management and future upgrade programs, plus maintenance technician training and training equipment.

Ahead of the Game
As the only team offering a currently-fielded trainer option, the T-50A was the first to production, the first to fly and the first to stand up a fully operational Final Assembly and Checkout Facility.

  • Feb. 11, 2016: T-50A and Greenville FACO Site Announced
  • Feb. 15, 2016: Greenville FACO Construction Begins
  • June 2, 2016: T-50A Flight Operations Begin in Korea
  • July 26, 2016: Second T-50A Flight Operations Begin
  • July 28, 2016: Greenville FACO Construction Complete
  • Aug. 16, 2016: T-50A Greenville, South Carolina, FACO Inauguration
  • Nov. 19, 2016: T-50A First Flight in Greenville, South Carolina
T-50A First Flight T-50A flight operations began June 2, 2016.

Looking Forward
The official T-X RFP was released Dec. 30, 2016. The Air Force will award a contract for 350 T-Xs to replace the 431 T-38s in December 2017. Initial operational capability is expected by the end of 2024.

Written by Danielle Epting, editor of Code One.