The first prototype of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 has conducted its maiden flight from Sacheon, South Korea.

According to South Korea’s defence ministry, the fighter took off at 15:40 local time and landed at 16:13. It gave no other details other than to state that the flight was “successful.”

During the sortie the jet was accompanied by a T-50 advanced jet trainer with a photographer in the back seat. According to KAI, the aircraft did not retract its landing gear during the flight. 

“This first flight was the realization of the domestic development capability of the 4.5th generation advanced fighter,” says South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

“It symbolises a new leap forward in domestic aviation technology and a leap forward into a high-tech powerhouse.”

DAPA adds that it aims to conduct 2,000 flight tests. These will expand the flight envelope, perform a range of checks, and assess the fighter’s air-to-air weapons. This work will be undertaken by a prototype fleet comprising six aircraft.

KAI has consistently said that the fighter’s first flight would take place by the end of 2022, following the aircraft’s roll-out in April 2021. Anticipation of a maiden sortie mounted recently when footage of the aircraft conducting ground tests emerged in South Korea.

Powered by two GE Aviation F414 engines, the KF-21 will replace the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and Northrop F-5 in Republic of Korea Air Force service.

Development of the aircraft is to be completed by 2026, followed by service entry.