Lockheed Martin might finally put to rest whether it intends to offer the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 or a separate clean-sheet design for the US Air Force’s upcoming advanced pilot training competition known as T-X.
The company has invited media to its Washington DC-based flight demonstration centre next week for an announcement regarding the competition. An invitation sent out on 3 February carries a darkened forward section off an aircraft that is strikingly similar to the KAI T-50.
Though long partnered with its Korean counterpart for the competition, Lockheed’s Skunk Works advanced design and development division is known to have been working on a clean-sheet alternative, should the air force’s requirements not favour the T-50.
KAI and Lockheed rolled out their Golden Eagle-based T-X demonstrator aircraft at a ceremony in South Korea in December, but a spokesman for Skunk Works said later that month that Lockheed’s “ultimate offering” would be revealed this year.
The image on the invitation has a similarly shaped nose, cockpit canopy and leading edge root extension (LERX) as the Golden Eagle. One design change seen in the image might be a universal aerial refuelling receptacle slipway installation (UARRSI) located forward of the left wing, instead of centreline on the fuselage.
In December, KAI said the T-50 demonstrator would take flight in Korea this year before moving to the US in 2017 for further flight testing.
Opposing industry teams Boeing/Saab and Northrop/BAE will offer clean-sheet designs instead of off-the-shelf proposals, but ditching the T-50 for a clean-sheet design would be tricky for Lockheed given the company’s long-standing relationship with Korea for the F-16 and F-35.
Boeing released an artist’s rendering of the nose of its T-X aircraft last September. Northrop went one better in December by briefly showing reporters a model of its proposal during a tour of its aircraft factory in Palmdale, California.
T-X will replace the air force’s 48-year-old Northrop T-38C for advanced pilot training. A request for proposals is due in late 2016 followed by a contract award in late 2017 for 350 aircraft and associated ground-based trainers, according to a schedule published in January.