Romania went the indigenous route in developing its advanced jet trainer with light strike capability when producing its IAR 99 series. The aircraft was developed for the Romanian Air Force to replace several aged types from Czechoslovakia with preliminary work beginning in 1975. At the time of its inception, the IAR 99 proved notable as becoming the first wholly-designed and manufactured jet-powered trainer aircraft of Romanian origin, becoming a symbol of national pride. Additionally, it reduced the country's reliance on foreign powers when stocking its military inventory.
Construction of the first prototype began in the early 1980s to which the airframe was made ready for its first flight on December 21st, 1985. Two additional prototypes followed, one to serve as a static test bed. After a period of successful evaluation, the aircraft was formally adopted by the Romanian Air Force as the IAR 99 "Soim" ("Hawk") with serial production upcoming in 1987 by Avioane Craiova. Within two years, the Romanian Air Force boasted over a dozen of the new aircraft type.
By the time of the early 1990s, the geopolitical landscape across Europe and Western Asia had changed considerably owing largely to the fall of the Soviet Empire. This left Romania now independent of its long-time overseer which served to broadened its self-influence considerably. An attempt was then made to market its new advanced trainer to interested foreign parties but these fell to naught as the market for such a fighter was already cornered by other popular breeds and Romanian electronics generally lacked behind its competitors. To rectify the issue, Romanian authorities teamed with the American concern of Honeywell to modify its design resulting in an end-product that failed to net any sales. The IAR 99, in its Honeywell conversion, was also marketed to the US for its Joint Primary Aircraft Training System program as a long-shot choice, the winner becoming the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II.
A modernization program was then enacted and this produced a joint venture between IAR and IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) to bring more functionality to its IAR 99 aircraft. While avionics were accordingly improved, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle and Stick) was introduced - bringing the Romanian design up to par with modern fighters of the age. Each cockpit was also completed with a pair of multi-function displays for improved capability, doing away with the primitive dials of old. However, as in the previous failed venture prior, this IAR/IAI endeavor eventually stalled and never saw formal completion.
By the mid-1990s, a new modernization initiative for the IAR 99 was put into play to coincide with the arrival of the modernized MiG-21 "LanceR". The MiG-21 was the primary Romanian interceptor of the period and available in quantity by limited by the fact that spare components once supplied from the Soviet Union were not easily accessible. As such, an in-house gesture between Romania and the Israeli concern of Elbit produced the modernized MiG-21s. In turn, this also produced modified IAR 99 airframes for the MiG-21 LanceR trainer role and these came to be known under the designation of "IAR 99C". The upgrade would have included a handful of existing IAR 99 mounts as well as an additional 40 new-built airframes. However, these totals were later curtailed to just a dozen total IAR 99C examples, five from existing airframes.
To date (2012) only 20 IAR 99 aircraft have ever been produced with at least three known to have been lost to accident. The fleet maintains an active status in the Romanian Air Force inventory.
Design-wise, the IAR 99 showcased a sleek, ultra-modern appearance with a well-contoured fuselage housing a single engine configuration and tandem seating cockpit. The short, sloped nosecone allowed for excellent forward and side-to-side visibility while the engine installation was buried deep within the middle-aft portion of the fuselage. The stepped natured of the cockpit allowed the rear pilot to view the action ahead over the seat of the frontal pilot. Wings were low-mounted along the fuselage sides and straight in their general design with clipped tips. The empennage was dominated by a single vertical tail fin held atop the engine exhaust port with applicable horizontal planes fitted at the fin's base (ntably positioned higher than the main wing elements). Small air intakes to aspirate the engine fitting were located near the rear pilot's cockpit position. The undercarriage included a conventional arrangement with a single-wheeled nose gear and single-wheeled main landing gears - all retractable.
Power for the IAR 99 was supplied through a British-originated, French-built Turbomecanica Mk 632-41M turbojet engine (Rolls-Royce "Viper") of 4,000lbs thrust output. Maximum speed was 540 miles per hour with an overall range of 684 miles. Service ceiling was listed at 42,300 feet with a rate-of-climb near 3,450 feet per minute.
While primarily utilized for the advanced jet trainer role, the IAR 99 was also given double-duty as a light strike platform - a dual-role configuration of aircraft popular with many nations today. The aircraft could, therefore, stock external munitions across four underwing hardpoints up to 2,200lbs total. The IAR 99 lacked an internal gun for close-in work but could mount cannon pods as required. Additionally, hardpoints supported conventional drop bombs, rocket pods, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles and laser guided munitions giving the IAR 99 system a broad tactical reach across most operating environments. The inboard hardpoints were further "plumbed" for accepting external fuel stores which furthered the aircraft's inherent operational range. The aircraft also featured a full electronic warfare and countermeasures suite (complete with chaff/flare dispensers) for self-defense against tracking and homing threats.
In all, the IAR 99 series proved a strong indigenous effort for the nation of Romania, even though the product has failed to net much foreign interest to date.