Preparing the UK’s Next Generation of Fighter Pilots


For one of the first times at an international air show, the T-50 Black Eagles are soaring through the skies.  The T-50 Black Eagles team will make their debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo on July 7-8; but the T-50’s appearance at an international tradeshow isn’t the only big news surrounding the program. Last May, Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI), Lockheed Martin’s partner on the T-50 program, signed a $400 million deal for the first overseas export of 16 T-50 Lead-In Fighter Trainer aircraft to Indonesia. Indonesia is the first major win in a series of international competitions for a modern fighter training aircraft. Several other countries have expressed interest in the T-50, including the United States.

With the F-22 Raptor program complete and F-35 Lightning IIs shipping to bases across the nation, the U.S. Air Force is looking for a new generation trainer aircraft to replace 450 existing T-38 trainers. While there is currently not an official competition for a new trainer, Lockheed Martin specifically designed the T-50 as a replacement for the T-38.   

Co-developed by Lockheed Martin and KAI, the T-50 is a supersonic trainer built to prepare pilots to fly 5th generation aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. The T-50 is a two-seat, single-engine, highly maneuverable jet that has modern features, including a digital glass cockpit, fly-by-wire control system, and a modern, ground-based training system to ensure pilots have a seamless transition to 5th Generation fighters. The jet has a top speed of Mach 1.4 and an operational range of 1,851 kilometers.

In an effort to make the T-50 the best trainer for next generation fighters, it is outfitted with a number of features that separate it from the competition, including the same 17-degree seatback angle that’s in the F-35 and F-22, and a side stick control schema. There is also an “active stick” architecture that transmits stick movements from one seat to the other, resulting in a decreased learning curve for new pilots. Maintenance is simple and affordable with a 10,000 hour airframe life and no mandatory airframe maintenance. And, a single-tier design allows technicians to get to any system inside the jet through one of 250 maintenance panels without having to remove any others.

The T-50 looks very similar to the F-16 with its large, mid-set wing and split airbrakes; however, there are some key differences that make it the ideal trainer jet for the future. The T-50 is 80 percent of the size of an F-16, but has larger control surfaces for enhanced control at lower speeds. It’s powered by an upgraded GE-F404 engine that gives the T-50 improved reliability and fuel efficiency. The T-50 also has a canopy with increased rear visibility and reinforced landing gear to better handle the hard landings often attributed to new pilots. The T-50 is equipped with the features and capabilities that will allow pilots in the United States and around the globe to successfully transition into flying 5th generation aircraft.


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Media Contacts:

Tom Casey,

Phil Rood, Lockheed Martin UK
0794 1164756

Joe LaMarca, Aeronautics

Mike Rein, F-35

Melissa Hilliard,
Missiles and Fire Control