Supersonic trainers are an integral part of the military aviation regime for any world power. Supersonic trainers bridge the gap between intermediate and full-fledged mounts, providing soon-to-be pilots with the necessary training in high-speed flight and engagement tactics. China, in its desire to become evermore independent in its foreign military purchases, has now looked to Hongdu to deliver such a vehicle in the L-15 "Falcon". The aircraft remains in development as of March 2014 and is in the same classification as the competing Italian Aermacchi M-346, Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 and South Korean KAI T-50 "Golden Eagle".
Externally, the L.15 appears as a dimensionally compact version of the American F/A-18 Hornet sans its twin-rudder tail. It sports wing root extensions along the cockpit walls leading up to a well-contoured fuselage which incorporates a twin engine side-by-side configuration. The wings feature sweep along their leading edges and lessened sweep along their trailing edges. Wingtips can mount air-to-air missiles while the undercarriage is very conventional.
As designed, the L-15 seats a crew of two - student and instructor or pilot and co-pilot depending on role. Overall length is 40 feet with a wingspan reaching 31 feet and height of 15.8 feet. The aircraft features an empty listed weight of 9,900lbs with a Maximum Take-Off Weight nearing 14,300lbs. Power is served through 2 x Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25 OR 2 x Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25F afterburning turbofan engines of Russian origin (by way of the Ukraine). Maximum speed is listed at 924 miles per hour (approx. Mach 1.4) with a combat radius of 345 miles and ferry range of nearly 2,000 miles. The L-15 can reach an altitude of 52,500 feet and showcases a rate-of-climb nearing 39,350 feet per minute.
Origins of the L-15 begin with a People's Liberation Army Air Force and Navy request for a supersonic trainer with inherent light attack capabilities. Such aircraft have been a proven commodity of many-an-air-power since the days of the Cold War where double-duty of a single design became the call of the day. These aircraft feature all-modern systems with strong performance capabilities and can be used in both advanced training and weapons delivery as required. In the light strike role, it is assumed that the L-15 would mount various Chinese/Russian weaponry including missiles, precision-guided munitions, conventional drop bombs, rocket pods and gun pods.
While largely designed in China, it is a feasible thought to include some Russian involvement with the Yakovlev concern having been tied to the Chinese project due to its sheer complexity and use of Russian powerplants. A full-scale mockup was displayed at Zhuhai Airshow 2004 with a flyable prototype shown the following year. First flight was recorded on March 13th, 2006. It is believed that the aircraft was then formally introduced between 2008 and 2010 with flight testing ongoing as of March 2014. A 2013 confirmation by Hongdu representatives during 2013 Paris Air Show confirmed the type has been ordered by the Chinese military in number as well as a foreign party showing interest in procuring the type.
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January 2018 - The Zambian Air Force is confirmed as an operator of the L-15 with a six-strong fleet. China is confirmed as operating two of the type with its People's Liberation Army Air Force branch.
November 2018 - The L-15 Advanced Jet Trainer has been redesignated to "L-15AW" to better showcase its light attack capabilities.
February 2023 - The UAE has announced the procurement of 12 L-15 AJTs at the IDEX conference, signaling closer defense ties between the two powers.
Hongdu AViation Industries Corporation (AVIC) - China Manufacturer(s)
China; Ethiopia; United Arab Emirates (announced); Zambia Operators
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represents the most popular modern mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are mounted along the midway point of the sides of the fuselage.
The planform features wing sweep back along the leading edges of the mainplane, promoting higher operating speeds.
2 x Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25 OR 2 x Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25F turbofan engines. Propulsion
Variable. Assumed air-to-air and air-to-surface missile support, precision-guided ordnance, conventional drop bombs, rocket pods, gun pods, cannon pods and jettisonable fuel tanks.
L-15 - Base production model with non-afterburning turbofan engines.
L-15B - Variant with afterburning turbofan engines.
L-15AW - Redesignation of L-15 to include basic attack functionality.
JL-10 - PLAAF designation
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Image from the Chinese Ministry of Defense.
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Image from the Chinese Ministry of Defense.
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