The AIDC F-CK-1 ("Fighter, Ching-Kuo 1") is a modern lightweight fighter developed by Taiwanese aerospace industry - the most ambitious internal development for the small island nation to date. The type serves as an air defense fighter intended to counter aggression from neighboring China and has become a capable indigenous platform comparable to the General Dynamics (now Lockheed) F-16 Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5 Tiger fighter series. The F-CK-1 maintains an active - albeit limited - presence in the Republic of China Air Force (RCAF) amongst a stable of other Western aircraft lines. The aircraft was named after former Taiwanese president Chiang Ching-Kuo who served in that role from 1978 into 1988 and was the son of President Chiang Kai-shek of World War 2 fame.
The F-CK-1 was born out of an indigenous initiative when sales of American General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons and Northrop F-20 Tigersharks were blocked by the US government (then attempting to improve their relations with Asian powerhouse China, Taiwan's natural enemy). Ironically, it was the Northrop F-20 - an improved form of the F-5 Tiger - that was specifically developed to help supplement the existing stable of Taiwanese fighters including the F-5. With little option, Taiwanese aerospace industry began research into a in-house solution intended to break the reliance on Western parties for future military needs. The program became the "Indigenous Defence Fighter" (IDF) which netted a first flight, of what would become the F-CK-1 "Ching-Kuo", on May 28th, 1989. Production of the aircraft was handled by Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) with initial deliveries beginning in 1994. Despite an initial requirement for several hundred aircraft, only 130 of the type would be produced into 1999.
For the island nation, the F-CK-1 endeavor was a very far-reaching program involving all manner of participants. Design work began in May of 1982 and, despite the US government's stance against direct sales of fighters to Taiwan, American companies were still free to offer the much-needed technical assistance required in bringing an advanced airframe online - from avionics software to aerodynamic challenges and armaments integration to powerplant development. A primary US defense contractor became General Dynamics which was already the brand label of the heralded F-16. As such, the F-16 influence was clear in the finalized F-CK-1 form particularly in the use of blended wing root/fuselage design concept, general wing shaping (complete with wingtip launchers) and the use of a single vertical tail fin.
AlliedSignal (now Honeywell) assisted the International Turbofan Engine Company (ITEC) in designing and developing a suitable powerplant for the new fighter. As in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-CK-1 featured a cockpit with HUD (Head-Up Display) and HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) controls. The radar system (housed in the nosecone) was an evolved version of the APG-67 series that was to be fielded in the F-20 Tigershark (while also being related to the APG-66 utilized in the F-16). The X-band pulse Doppler system (designated as the "Golden Dragon 53" or "GD-53") allowed for accurate tracking and engagement of targets oversea and overland with a range of 35 miles, optimized for use with the locally-developed "Skysword I" and "Skysword II" missiles - each (respectively) mimicking the American AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range and AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missiles. The missiles were developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST).
For all its advanced features, the aircraft took on a rather conventional design shape featuring a well-contoured fuselage with the forward-mounted cockpit situated aft of the radar housing. The blended wing roots formed nicely along the wing assemblies with rearward swept leading edges and slightly forward-swept trailing edges. There were a pair of tailplanes straddling the engine installations with the vertical tail fin mounted between each engine bulge. Unlike the F-16, the F-CK-1 was given 2 x turbofan engines, each aspirated at the front through very defined elliptical intakes and exhausting at the rear via circular ports of traditional design. The undercarriage was of a typical tricycle arrangement featuring a pair of single-wheeled main legs and a single-wheeled nose leg.
The F-CK-1 was powered through 2 x Honeywell F125-70 series turbofan engines, each delivering 9,500lbs of thrust. This provided the airframe with a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and operational range of 680 miles with a service ceiling of 55,000 feet.
For standard armament, the F-CK-1 followed Western design guidelines in instituting 1 x 20mm M61A1 Gatling internal cannon (of American design) for close-in work. In the air defense role, the aircraft could carry up to 4 x Sky Sword I and Sky Sword II missiles to counter short- and medium-ranged threats as required. Provisions were added for launching of the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile as well as the Hsuing Feng II series anti-ship missile. As with all modern multirole platforms, the F-CK-1 could also make use of guided or freefall munitions as needed. The inboard underwing hardpoints are further "plumbed" to accept conventional fuel drop tanks in increasing the aircraft's operation range.
With its first flight in 1989, the initial F-CK-1 prototype was followed by three more under the A-1, A-2, A-3 and A-4 designations. A-1 incurred damage during a very public landing attempt while A-2 was lost altogether during a Mach 1 trials test. Ten preproduction airframes (in effect making up the first operational F-CK-1 squadron) were then added and tested amidst rising program costs. The first production quality airframe was delivered to the Taiwanese Air Force in January of 1994. The line was broadened between the base single-seater fighter (as the "F-CK-1A") and the two seat form (as the "F-CK-1B").
The Taiwanese government had originally planned to procure 256 F-CK-1 fighters though this requirement was ultimately slashed when the US arms restrictions were ultimately lifted, allowing purchases of the F-16 Fighting Falcon through the Block 20 A/B variants. Taiwan eventually purchased 150 of the type. These were also followed by the procurement of 50 French-made Dassault Mirage 2000-5 multirole aircraft.
In 2001, the Taiwanese government enacted a program to upgrade the Ching-Kuo line with the ultimate goal of increasing its operational range, radar capabilities, improving avionics and extending armament options. Two prototypes were made ready in 2006, unveiled publically in a 2007 showing and tested with success. Under the modifications, the aircraft would be replacing the original A/B models with the F-CK-1C and F-CK-1D designations. However, purchases of additional, more modern, F-16s postponed any near-future commitment to the advanced Ching-Kuo. In 2009, the Taiwanese government finally announced that the F-CK-1C and D upgraded models would be realized, these forms expected to appear in circulation from 2013 onwards.
The F-CK-1 has not been offered up for export, keeping Taiwan as its only global operator.
February 2017 - It was announced that the F-CK-1 will be turned into a two-seat advanced trainer for the Taiwanese Air Force. The aircraft will be designated as "XT-5" and a first flight is scheduled for sometime in 2020. Once in service, the series will replace the aging line of AIDC AT-3 trainers and Northrop F-5 lightweight fighters. Sixty-six aircraft are part of an initial requirement.
January 2019 - Some 102 F-CK-1C and F-CK-1D production models currently make up total Ching-Kuo fighter strength in the Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
Ability to intercept inbound aerial threats by way of high-performance, typically speed and rate-of-climb.
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).
46.6 ft (14.21 m)
31.0 ft (9.46 m)
14.5 ft (4.42 m)
14,330 lb (6,500 kg)
26,896 lb (12,200 kg)
+12,566 lb (+5,700 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the AIDC F-CK-1A (Ching-Kuo) production variant)
2 x ITEC (Honeywell/AIDC) TFE1042-70 (F125) afterburning turbofan engines developing 9,500lb of thrust with reheat.
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