South Korea has identified general aviation aircraft and unmanned air vehicles as potential expansion avenues for its growing aerospace industry.

Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) is test flying a four-seat kitplane, developing another four-seater and studying vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAVs.

KARI, a government agency, first flew the Firefly kitplane last year after developing it with local and US-made parts. KARI and the project's US partner, Velocity Aircraft, are trying to recruit another company to produce the kits. Principal researcher Seokmin Ahn expects a deal with a US or Korean company will be forged by year-end.

The first Firefly is now being used as a demonstrator at Velocity's plant in Florida. A second prototype is in Korea, where it is being used as a testbed for Korean-developed avionics and other aviation equipment.

KARI is developing with Korean ultralight manufacturer Sung Jun Motoravia another four-seater called Bora, which should be ready to fly next spring. "We hope to get someone to make it a certified aircraft," Ahn says.

Motoravia is seeking a US partner to help certify and build the aircraft in the USA. Korean companies cannot apply for US certification because there is no airworthiness bilateral between the two countries, but KARI is lobbying for one to be negotiated.

The Bora will be 100% indigenous, compared with the Firefly, which has a fuselage borrowed from the Velocity XL. The Bora and Firefly are similarly sized and both cruise at 180kt (335km/h), but the Bora features a forward swept wing.

KARI began studying VTOL UAVs at the beginning of this year and plans to select a design concept, most likely a tiltrotor, by year-end. The UAV will be 1-3m (3-10ft) in length, weigh 300kg (660lb) and fly at 215kt (400km/h). Flight tests of a demonstration vehicle are scheduled to begin in 2005.

KARI earlier developed a small long-endurance UAV with a 3m wingspan and payload of less than 1kg. This UAV has flown, but the project has been on hold. "We had problems with the automatic flight system, so we are still studying," says UAV project manager Cheol-Ho Lim.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has also developed a UAV, the Night Intruder 300, and is considering expanding its new UAV business to include several types. KAI has begun delivering Night Intruders - designed for surveillance, reconnaissance and search and rescue missions - to the Korean army, but details of the programme are classified.

KARI also just completed building a 50m unmanned airship and is now embarking on a project to build a 200m airship capable of flying to the stratosphere.

In the mid-1990s South Korea studied co-developing with China a 100-seat indigenous aircraft. After that effort failed, KAI and KARI were tasked with studying a 35- to 50-seat indigenous jet. But this study has been put on hold indefinitely. South Korea is not expected to resume any consideration of manufacturing commercial passenger aircraft because the government now believes an indigenous helicopter project has more promise.

KARI, which has 600 employees, expects to help design the new helicopter. The Agency for Defence Development, another government organisation with a high concentration of highly educated aerospace engineers, will participate in this project.

KARI historically has played a big role in Korean aircraft projects because its facilities can accommodate windtunnel, structural and engine tests.

Source: Flight International