South Korea’s air force aerobatics team will use the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 from 2010, after the service inked a 10-aircraft deal worth an estimated 200 billion won ($200 million) this week.
The “Black Eagles”, who have performed over 500 times outside South Korea, last flew the Vietnam War-era Cessna A-37 “Dragonfly” that was retired in 2007 after the Seoul air show.
The team will be formed again after the first T-50 is delivered in 2010.
By operating the type, the Black Eagles will become one of the few air force aerobatic teams to use indigenously designed and manufactured aircraft.
“This is a reaffirmation of the Republic of Korea Air Force’s confidence in the T-50,” says KAI, which worked with Lockheed Martin to produce the aircraft.
The aerobatics team’s aircraft will use the T-50’s advanced jet trainer platform, which will be modified to include smoke oil tanks, spray nozzles, and related gauges, switches and lights.
The colour scheme has not been decided, and it has not been confirmed if the “Black Eagles” name will be retained. The T-50 is also known as the Golden Eagle.
“There has been a lot of interest about the colour scheme,” says KAI, which has offered various options. “Suggestions vary from traditional Korean designs to new modern designs. Some people have even suggested a contest to decide on a winning design. We expect a decision at the end of the year.”
With this order, the air force has committed to 82 T-50s. This includes 50 in the advanced jet trainer configuration, and 22 in the A-50 weaponised version. The service is widely expected to order another 70 T-50s of both variants.
KAI is also developing the F/A-50, a light combat version of the aircraft, and the service is likely to commit to at least 50 of those.
KAI is jointly marketing the aircraft with Lockheed outside South Korea. The T-50 is locked in a fierce competition with the Aermacchi M-346 and BAE Systems Hawk for Singapore's advanced jet trainer requirement, and is up against the M-346 in the United Arab Emirates.
It is also pushing the aircraft in other European and Asian countries with advanced trainer requirements.
The Black Eagles were established in 1953 with four second world war-era North American Aviation F-51 Mustangs. These were replaced with the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre in 1962 and then the Northrop F-5A in 1967.
There was a hiatus between 1978 and 1993, when each aircraft type in the South Korean air force performed its own aerial demonstrations. The team was reformed in 1994 with the A-37s.