In February, Lockheed Martin made it official that it would be offering the T-50A in the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training (APT) competition. The T-50A was developed jointly by Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to replace the T-38 and train pilots to fly fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35.
“The T-50A is production ready now,” said Rob Weiss, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs (Skunk Works). “We carefully studied a clean-sheet option for the [Advanced Pilot Training] competition and determined that it posed excessive risk to the APT cost and schedule requirements.”
As the word competition implies, Lockheed and KAI are not alone in offering up a replacement for the aging T-38. Northrop Grumman is said to be working on a clean-sheet design, as well as Textron and another team that consists of Boeing and Saab. Currently, initial operating capability is scheduled for 2024.
And as Weiss implied, the benefit Lockheed Martin sees for the T-50A is that it's already flying for the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) as the as the FA-50, which is currently in production and is considered the most advanced version of the T-50. The ROKAF says that the aircraft yields better pilots in less time, with fewer sorties. The ROKAF uses the T-50 to reduce the number of required training flights in its KF-16 aircraft, which reduces operating costs and increases KF-16 fleet availability rates.
There are more than 100 T-50s flying today—with over 100,000 flight hours—and, according to Lockheed Martin, the airframe has already trained more than 1000 pilots.
The T-50A will incorporate air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, an avionics suite with an electronic warfare suite, a multi-mode radar, and an advanced data-link. The T-50A Embedded Training capability will emulate these and other “air combat” systems, sensors, weapons, and threats.
Overall, the T-50A is expected to allow student pilots to focus their aviation skills on improved performance, digital flight controls/fly-by-wire, and NextGen air traffic management systems, while operating from an anthropometrically designed fifth-generation-like cockpit that they will likely be flying after graduating flight school.
Lockheed Martin's accompanying T-50A Ground-Based Training System (GBTS) contains various technologies that will provide options for “offloading” aircraft training tasks into an immersive, synchronized ground-based training platform. The T-50A GBTS applies lessons-learned from decades of training with leading-edge technologies.
Lockheed Martin's operations facility in Greenville, SC, will be the preferred Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) site for the aircraft. Greenville Operations has a long history of in aircraft final assembly and checkout, as well as extensive capabilities in modernization and upgrades on a variety of aircraft platforms. The 227-acre Greenville site has 13 hangars, 1,200,000 ft² of covered space optimized for APT and 8000 ft of runway. Greenville is also home to a highly-skilled, flexible workforce of Lockheed Martin aviation technicians, engineers, program managers, and other experienced personnel.