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KAI / Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle Advanced Trainer / Light Attack Aircraft (2005)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 1/31/2014

The T-50 Golden Eagle is an advanced supersonic trainer that can double as a light attack strike fighter.

Picture of KAI / Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle
The T-50 / A-50 "Golden Eagle" is an advanced supersonic trainer and light strike-capable aircraft platform produced jointly by the South Korean firm of Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) and the American firm of Lockheed Martin. The resulting design is a highly modified derivative of the Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics) F-16 "Fighting Falcon", of which KAI license-builds as the "KF-16" (the wing shape and single rudder design are apparent). The Golden Eagle twin-seat trainer has been procured in limited numbers with the South Korean Air Force.

The T-50 family was developed to replace a slew of active, though aging, platforms for the South Korean Air Force. More importantly, the involvement by Lockheed Martin ensured that the American company would assist in developing a next-generation advanced trainer capable of instructing a new crop of fighter pilots - particularly those that may end up in the cockpits of the Lockheed F-22 Raptor, Lockheed F-35 Lightning II, French Dassault Rafale and the European consortium Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. Much like the F-16 Fighting Falcon before it, the T-50 features a large glass canopy (the pilots seated in tandem), a single large-area vertical tail fin and a single turbofan powerplant in the General Electric F404 series. The system's developmental funding was split between the two participating firms with the government of South Korea taking on all remaining costs. The prototype recorded its first flight on August 20th, 2002. Prior to, the entire F-50 program suffered through financial setbacks before coming back on track. The T-50 was formally introduced into service on February 22nd, 2002. It has since been adopted by the Indonesian Air Force as well beginning in 2013 (16 aircraft - 12 T-50s and 4 x TA-50s). Production of T-50 aircraft began in 2001 and is ongoing as of this writing (2013). South Korea manages a stable of 102 aircraft made up of 50 x T-50s, 10 x T-50Bs, 22 x TA-50s and 20 x FA-50 (the latter on order as of 2013).

Initial evaluations during development saw the aircraft exceed Mach 1.0 though the design was initially estimated to achieve speeds of up to Mach 1.5. The engine provides full afterburning capabilities which supply short bursts of speed to the aircraft - maximum speed being 1,100 miles per hour at 10,000 feet. Operational range is 1,150 miles with a service ceiling of 48,000 feet. Triple-redundant, digital fly-by-wire technology is utilized for precision handling with dual controls available through both cockpits (as the T-50 can be utilized as an attack airframe or advanced trainer). The primary pilot/student resides in the front cockpit with the co-pilot/instructor in the rear. Avionics includes AN/APG-67 pulse Doppler radar (in the T-50) and EL/M-2032 advanced pulse Doppler Fire Control Radar (for the TA-50 and FA-50 marks).

The "Golden Eagle" is marketed as an advanced trainer under the designation of T-50, as a "fighter lead-in" platform under the TA-50 designation and as a light strike-capable variant under the FA-50 designation. These aircraft differ from one another mostly in the types of internal systems installed to achieve the desired mission role. The trainer does not mount the internal cannon nor advanced radar while the FA-50 is designed for day-and-night operations. The TA-50 is an in-between design combining the applications of both aircraft. All variants feature seating for two. The T-50B is a highly-specialized, high performance aerobatic demonstrator developed exclusively for the eight-aircraft-strong South Korean "Black Eagles" 53rd Air Demonstration Group.

In the armed strike role, the Golden Eagle can be outfitted with various conventional munitions to suit mission requirements. A standard internal 20mm General Dynamics A-50 gatling gun (a three-barreled version of the M61 Vulcan) is provided for close-in work as are rail-launchers along each wingtip for the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. Additionally, the aircraft can field a variety of underwing ordnance as well as external fuel tanks. Ordnance options include air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles (including the AGM-65 Maverick), unguided rocket pods, general purpose drop bombs, cluster bombs and precision-guided drop bombs.

In May of 2013 it was announced that South Korea will procure an additional 40 TA-50 strike aircraft. The added production will allow an extended lease on life for the T-50 series as a whole, ensuring production lines remain open until 2016. The T-50 is in play for the USAF T-X program, the branch's search to find its new advanced trainer.

South Korea failed to interest both Singapore and Israel in their T-50 mount. Possible sales are noted to the Botswana, Chile and the Philippines.

Update January 2014:
The Iraqi Air Force has elected to procure the KAI T-50 as light attack fighters in a 24-strong order. Deliveries are expected to end by 2017. The Iraqi model in question will follow the FA-50 design and its multi-role qualities while flying under the local T-50IQ designation for the IAF.

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Specifications for the
KAI / Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle
Advanced Trainer / Light Attack Aircraft

Focus Model: KAI T-50 / TA-50 Golden Eagle
Country of Origin: South Korea
Manufacturer: Korean Aerospace Industries - South Korea / Lockheed Martin - USA
Initial Year of Service: 2005
Production Total: 158

Crew: 2

Length: 42.59 ft (12.98 m)
Width: 30.09 ft (9.17 m)
Height: 15.68ft (4.78 m)
Weight (Empty): 14,200 lb (6,441 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 26,422 lb (11,985 kg)

Powerplant: 1 x General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine delivering 17,700lbs of thrust with afterburning.

Maximum Speed: 990 mph (1,593 kmh; 860 kts)
Maximum Range: 1,150 miles (1,851 km)
Service Ceiling: 47,999 ft (14,630 m; 9.1 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 0 feet-per-minute (0 m/min)

Hardpoints: 7 (including wingtips)
Armament Suite:
1 x 20mm General Dynamics A-50 Vulcan gatling three-barrel cannon.
2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles (wingtip mounts).

6 x AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles
CBU-58 Cluster Bombs
Mk-20 Cluster Bombs
LAU-3 Rocket Pods
LAU-68 Rocket Pods
Mk 82 General Purpose Bombs
Mk 83 General Purpose Bombs
Mk 84 General Purpose Bombs
Guided Drop Bombs

T-50 - Advanced Jet Trainer Designation; sans internal gun and radar system.

T-50B - Designation reserved for the acrobatic mount of the Black Eagles team.

TA-50 - "Fighter Lead-In" Attack Designation; internal 20mm cannon; air-to-air missile capability; external drop bomb capability; APG-67 radar.

FA-50 - Light Attack Multi-Role Model; Day/Night Mission Capability; RWR, CMDS, FLIR an Tactical Data Link.

T-50A MDS - Reserved US Military Designation should it decide to procure the T-50 platform.

A-50 - Original designation of the FA-50.

Indonesia; South Korea