U.S. pilots test S. Korean aircraft
Pilots from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School flew one of the world’s most advanced training aircraft in South Korea last week.
The TA-50 Golden Eagle, developed jointly by Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin, is designed to prepare pilots for today’s advanced fighter aircraft, as well as for prototypes like the Joint Strike Fighter.
Like the F-16 that the Navy uses as an advanced trainer and the Air Force uses in combat, the high-performance supersonic TA-50 has a single tail rudder and a similarly shaped bubble canopy.
"This would be an ideal trainer to bridge the gap between the propeller-driven primary trainer that student pilots normally fly … to the advanced fighter they’ll eventually fly," said Maj. Jonathan Ohman, a Marine student at the Navy’s test pilot school, who flew the South Korean air force aircraft Wednesday in Sancheon, near Busan.
Ohman and Navy Lt. Joshua Filbey are both writing technical reports on the aircraft as the final step in their graduation from the school.
The students are graded on the TA-50 technical reports, not the flying, said school instructor Lt. Cmdr. Jim Mires.
While Mires said the training aircraft was comfortable and easy to start up, the nature of a technical report — which isn’t published — is to nitpick.
"Unless it’s perfect, every aircraft has its objectionable qualities on it, but that’s all based on personal opinions," Mires said.
The TA-50 is one of three versions of the aircraft. It adds air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons installation capabilities along with other features to the T-50 base model.
"It’s a unique aircraft to fly," Filbey said. "The avionics, performance and handling are a great step to a modern fighter."
A South Korean Air Force spokesman said Thursday that the service agreed to allow the U.S. pilots to test fly the TA-50 as a way to showcase the technology South Korea hopes to market.
If the U.S. pilots recognize the capabilities of the aircraft, the spokesman said, there are better "prospects for selling our aircraft."