A third prototype has joined the flight test campaign of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 Boramae programme, with supersonic tests possible in January.

The third KF-21 prototype conducted a 37min sortie from 13:01-13:38 local time from KAI’s Sacheon production facility on 5 January, says South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

The aircraft was flown by Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) pilot Lieutenant Colonel Lee Jin-wook.

DAPA bills the third prototype as a “multi-purpose” aircraft, in that it can be used to expand the fighter’s speed envelope, as well as examine structural loads encountered during flight.

By comparison, the first prototype is focused primarily on aircraft speed, and the second primarily on structural loads.

Three more prototypes are to join the campaign in 2023, and plans call for 2,000 flight tests by February 2026. Development work is also under way on an indigenous active electroncially scanned array radar. 

Source: Defense Acquisition Program Administration

The first flight of the third KF-21 prototype

Meanwhile, South Korea’s official news agency Yonhap quotes sources as saying that the KF-21 will break the sound barrier this month, depending on weather conditions. 

Powered by two GE Aerospace F414 engines, the KF-21 will replace ageing Northrop F-5s and McDonnell Douglas F-4s still in ROKAF service.

Indonesia is a 20% partner in the W8.8 trillion ($6.9 billion) programme but struggles to meet its financial commitments.

Seoul is expected to obtain 120 KF-21s and Jakarta 50. In addition, South Korean officials hope to sell the KF-21 on the international market, specifically as a replacement for the Lockheed Martin F-16.