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.
Tom Casey, Corporate
Phil Rood, Lockheed Martin UK
Joe LaMarca, Aeronautics
Mike Rein, F-35
Missiles and Fire Control