The Dubai show marks an important week for South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle. Not only is it making its international debut here, the UAE air force is regarded as near the top of manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) list as potential customers for the supersonic advanced jet trainer.
KAI, which developed the aircraft with assistance from Lockheed Martin and showed it off publicly for the first time at last month’s Seoul air show, is flying the aircraft in the daily flying display and has offered a series of test flights for VIPs and UAE air force pilots during the week.
The UAE is believed to require up to 60 aircraft in the T-50’s class, although Robbie Notestine, Lockheed Martin senior director, T-50 Marketing, makes the point that no formal requirement has been issued.
South Korean industry developed the T-50 to meet a domestic requirement for 50 advanced jet trainers, 22 lead-in fighter trainers (LIFT) and 22 close air support aircraft. However, the South Korean government expects to see a reward for its investment in the programme in the form of export sales. It has its eye on at least 600 examples of the design being exported, while KAI also expects to sell up to 140 additional fighter aircraft variants domestically. Prime export prospects, apart from the UAE, are considered to be Greece and Singapore.
Some commentators have queried the necessity to have supersonic capability in a trainer aircraft, but Notestine says this attitude misses the point. “It’s really not about being supersonic, it’s about having a high-energy aircraft. You want to teach students how to manage that high energy before they get into a front-line aircraft; they need to experience that somewhere along the line.”
With that in mind, says Notestine, he does not believe that the T-50 will have to be content to aim at a niche market.