Aviation Week & Space Technology

Aviation Week Rides in Lockheed’s T-50A Pilot Trainer


As the U.S. Air Force’s $16 billion competition for an advanced pilot trainer reaches its final stage, Lockheed Martin is upping the ante. The company took five reporters on the ride of their lives in the T-50A, showing off the capabilities of the production-ready aircraft just weeks before proposals are due to the Air Force.

For Lockheed, the media flights were not only a chance to prove the T-50A would be ready to go on day one, but that it can meet and even exceed the T-X capability requirements. The T-50A, a block upgrade of Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50, can achieve 25-degree angle of attack, pull up to 8Gs (Aviation Week pulled 7.9), and fly supersonic. During Aviation Week’s flight Feb. 23, Lockheed chief T-50A test pilot Mark Ward also demonstrated a Ground Based Training System that enables a pilot in a simulator to sync up with a pilot actually flying the aircraft. Working in a three-ship team made up of two real-life and one virtual T-50A, Ward tracked and shot down two simulated MiG fighters as well as ground threats.

The system was not flawless – after both air-to-ground kills, one of the GBTS screens glitched and the pilot needed to recycle it.  Ward was not sure what caused the problem, but reported it to the maintainers after the flight.

With the sudden exit of two major players – Northrop Grumman and Raytheon-Leonardo – the 350-aircraft T-X contract will come down to a price shootout between the T-50A and Boeing-Saab’s clean-sheet design. As Lockheed tells it, the T-50As main advantage is that it is a “low-risk, low-cost” solution, a proven trainer that has been operating with the South Korean Air Force since 2005. As an off-the-shelf aircraft, the T-50 won’t suffer any risk-related cost growth. There is no doubt the T-50A can meet the capability requirements; the rest hinges on sticker price.

Boeing is hungry for the T-X contract and will likely bid aggressively, but much depends on how much of the non-recurring development cost the companies can absorb. Boeing says its two T-X aircraft are production ready, not prototypes; the first just took flight Dec. 20. As with any new aircraft, the design will have to go through a rigorous flight-test and certification process.

Technically, Leonardo and DRS, now teamed to offer the T-100 and Sierra Nevada are still in the race. But as Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group wrote for Aviation Week & Space Technology recently, it’s looking more and more like T-X is Lockheed’s to lose, and Boeing’s to win.

Discuss this Video 83

on Feb 24, 2017

When I read the headline I thought I was in for the kind of article which was often in Aviation Week 50 years ago. A "we fly" review of a new airplane.

Instead it turned into another rendition of "Lockheed, Lockheed über alles, über alles in der Welt."

Perhaps Aviation Week is trying to let the Boeing CEO down easy. To serve notice all that groveling and supplication failed despite being allowed to listen in on the speaker phone.

"But as Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group wrote for Aviation Week & Space Technology recently, it’s looking more and more like T-X is Lockheed’s to lose, and Boeing’s to win."

Ok, we get the message.

Now when may we read one of those old fashioned "Aviation Week Flies" articles?

on Feb 24, 2017

I think this was a hint to Boeing saying - we want to fly your plane as well...

on Feb 24, 2017

Nah, it says that Lockheed Martin took reporters for a ride, and they now want to take the taxpayers for another ride, just as they have with the F-35.
A "low cost low risk solution", they say. Believe that, and there is a nice bridge in Brooklyn you can have for a steal.

on Feb 24, 2017

I don't understand the issue. They flew in the aircraft, just as the headline says.

Was AW&ST to have a journalist report this story who's been through school for this aircraft and is rated for a checkride - to actually take the yoke and operate the aircraft?

I'd say pulling almost eight gees during a ride was a pretty exhilarating demonstration of the aircraft's maneuverability. I would have liked more description of the flight itself, but that's my only issue with the article.

I don't see any cheerleading for Lockheed Martin here. AW&ST has kept us up-to-date on issues and controversies regardng the F-35 program, which they wouldn't have done had they any pro-LM bias at all.

on Feb 24, 2017

AW&ST has also German readers.

on Feb 24, 2017

Too funny

on Feb 24, 2017

"after both air-to-ground kills, one of the GBTS screens glitched and the pilot needed to recycle it". Just the sort of "training" that will be relevant to the F-35. Not sure that an adversary will hit the pause button and wait for the Wundercraft to reboot though.

on Feb 24, 2017

Looks like a watered down F-16 to me. Why not just order two seat F-16's and avoid the extra R&D expense.

on Feb 24, 2017

Not only the F-16D is aged and doesn't come with modern avionics, but it is also aged and should be nearing its retirement age soon, so new airframe is needed. You are looking at $70 million for a new F-16D, more than 4 times of $15~18 million unit pricing that the T-X winner is expected to fetch.

And that isn't going to be the T-50A, their price is $25 million and KAI can't it sell below cost due to the restriction of it being a government owned enterprise.

on Feb 24, 2017

Because it's way too expensive to build and operate for a trainer aircraft.

on Feb 25, 2017

It looks like a watered down F-16 because that's exactly what it is, based on the KF-16s built under license.

on Feb 24, 2017

Av Week flys the Tx So what did you find and what do we know about the airplane that we did not know before ?....Nothing Penton has ruined this magazine and after years reading this magazine I will not be renewing my subscription

on Dec 13, 2017

How can a production aircraft claimed to be ready since 2005 have a fault like this?

"The system was not flawless – after both air-to-ground kills, one of the GBTS screens glitched and the pilot needed to recycle it."

The reason for "the media flights were not only a chance to prove the T-50A would be ready to go on day one"

on Feb 24, 2017

rcdun, don't do it, you will miss the conspiracy cucks and the expert's opinion on this site.

on Feb 24, 2017

The usual anti-Lockheed folks are up early this morning, I see.
Recall, this aircraft was specifically designed twenty years ago to do just this job and it is through the cost and schedule issues that these less than charitable observers chide the supply base for on a daily basis. Now, that said, that will make it fall into their other typical criticism that the technology is old hat and therefore we are missing a trick! Which is it to be today, I wonder?
This is a great aircraft with a nice tech refresh so I suggest that Boeing's machine carries a little more risk this time. Just for once!!!

on Feb 24, 2017

The problem with the T-50A is that KAI didn't know what the future T-X would be like and designed a supersonic jet with a 6 ton external payload, and is now paying the price of this excessive capability, as the T-50A weigh twice as much as the subsonic Boeing BTX-1, and cost at least 50% more.

on Feb 24, 2017

Yes, you're absolutely right SlowMan. The T-50 has the airframe optimized for a light fighter that can carry a crap load of ordnance for its size.

The only thing is.... what if the USAF wants a trainer that can also be a light fighter?

The Boeing/Saab is about a quarter lighter than the T-50 and has a slighter stronger version of the F404 engine. With such characteristics, it will probably better perform the TX RFP from the USAF.

on Feb 24, 2017


"The T-50 has the airframe optimized for a light fighter that can carry a crap load of ordnance for its size."

But that's not what the USAF asked for. All that the USAF asked for was the cheapest subsonic jet that could pull the max of 7.5G, nothing more. And the T-50A isn't that jet.

"The only thing is.... what if the USAF wants a trainer that can also be a light fighter?"

That's not in the RFP, if it is not in the RFP, then it cannot be considered during the evaluation.

"The Boeing/Saab is about a quarter lighter than the T-50"

Actually half as much, 3 tons vs 6 tons of the T-50A.

on Feb 24, 2017

Where did you get those values for the BTX?

on Feb 25, 2017

Where do you get your (wrong) information from, SlowMan?

The published empty weight of the LM T-50 is 6,470 pounds.

The published empty weight of the Boeing T-X is 7,165 pounds, making it nearly 500 pounds heavier than the T-50. The T-50 is good for up to Mach 1.5, while the T-X barely breaks Mach 1 as a top speed.

Considering both aircraft use the same GE F404 engine, it sure looks like the T-X is a veritable dog of a performer compared to the T-50.

Finally, until the bids are unsealed, read, and analyzed, nobody knows what the costs will be for either competitor.

on Feb 25, 2017


"The published empty weight of the LM T-50 is 6,470 pounds."

No, 6,470 kg.

"The published empty weight of the Boeing T-X is 7,165 pounds"

Which is 3,250 kg.

The Boeing BTX-1 does weigh half as much as the T-50A, and comes with lower cost and fuel burn rate accordingly.

on Feb 26, 2017

You are correct, I stand corrected, I misread the weight at pounds not kg.

Yet, the T-50 is 50% faster than the T-X, using the same engine, while nearly twice the weight. The T-X is a dog by comparison ... why would the AF want such a dog?

How do you explain that other than poor aerodynamic design?

on Feb 26, 2017


"why would the AF want such a dog?"

1. Boeing BTX-1 is significantly cheaper, $15~18 million vs $23 million for a T-50A.
2. Boeing BTX-1 burns less fuel than the T-50A, the total fuel saving can run into billions over 30 years.

Hope that helps you to understand why they T-X contest is already over before it began.

on Feb 26, 2017

yes. Fuel and time to climb at alt (less "rotation" per trainee -> less flight hours -> less cost).

Thanks for the WTO value

on Jun 19, 2017

Victory is sweet, SlowMan!

on Feb 24, 2017

That flight was NOT what I would have done, as a pilot that flew for about 60 years.....trained in the Air Force Pilot Training ..... Piper Cub, T-28, T-bird to get my wings...then B-47; then F-84, and F-86H in the Mass ANG, finally Cessna 182. In addition to the barrel roll I would have demonstrated a split-s, a loop, and some inverted flight....I would be happy to share a few photos of the aircraft I flew; and 'chat' with you Lara about flying, etc....I am an Aeronautical Engineer and had 'lots of fun', and some 'exciting times' flying.

on Feb 24, 2017

Just because Boeing claims that their first 2 planes aren't prototypes doesn't make it so. I don't think there's ever been a new aircraft that hasn't experienced all kinds of unexpected problems and glitches. The reality is that it will have a long road ahead of it just as all new airplanes do. Yes Boeing, your new plane is a prototype!

on Feb 24, 2017

dhull: If Boeing does not already have a full production line in existence and pumping out aircraft, then yes it's still a "prototype" and not a "production model".

Apparently Boeing is trying to compete on the basis of semantics, not facts.

on Feb 24, 2017

A $16B program? Ridiculous. Where are the GOP deficit hawks on this?

on Feb 24, 2017

$16 billion is based on the quote of the highest price bidder, Lockheed Martin. The winning bid will be much much less, this is a pure price shootout and this is why Northrop quit since they were bound to lose money on this. Personally I don't understand why the highest price bidder Lockheed Martin is even staying in this race, but they are doing that probably due to some kind of contractual obligations.

The current estimated winning price is in $15~18 million per unit plus additional ground based simulators.

on Feb 24, 2017

Slow man ... apparently you really are "slow" ... there is no quote yet, because the bids have not been submitted and evaluated. The program estimate is a ball-park estimate produced by the AF.

on Feb 24, 2017


The budget is based on vendor quotes. Obviously, somebody's quote resulted in a 16 billion max program budget, and it wasn't Boeing that quoted $16 billion.

on Feb 24, 2017

Vendor quote for what? You can't submit a quote until there is an RFP with full scope of work, and you cannot ask for a quote unless you are prepared to buy something, which something cannot be defined until you publish a RFP.

So no, there were no "vendor quotes". It was an Air Force staff estimate based on pricing seen on similar, but not precisely the same aircraft (i.e. price it by the pound and the speed), or a "parametric study" of other existing jets scaled either down or up to fit what the AF thought it might buy.

In any case, such estimates are only planning level and have no validity in judging costs. Just like the much-criticized "estimate" for the AF-1 replacement aircraft, which was nothing but hot air. You cannot begin to define the cost of anything until you can define what "it" is and what "it" must be able to do.

on Feb 24, 2017


A "quote" is not a "bid price".

A "quote" is a guessed price of how much something would cost.
A "bid price" is a contractually binding price that the vendor submits in bidding.

Of course the USAF asked for quotes of what each vendor's offering would cost and a budget was prepared based on vendor quotes.

on Feb 24, 2017

Slowman, you are disagreeing with what the usual suspect is saying and therefore by his standards you must be a Putin troll.

on Feb 24, 2017

There has been a draft RFP since last July, and a full RFP since December.
Yes, I know, facts elude some people.

on Feb 25, 2017

You're incredibly dumb, Tommy. You cannot use an RFP that you released for purposes of buying an aircraft system and use "quotes" from the vendors to use in determining the cost when the vendors - none of them - have submitted a bid.

Go back to kindergarten again before you comment here at AW.

on Feb 24, 2017

Wait a minute-this thing shoots-down MIGs and does CAS? Why do we need the F-35 then? I'll bet the T-50's software glitches will be cheaper to fix, and if not they will be cheaper to replace when they are shot-down. Still wish Leonardo would get back into this fight, LM is becoming the government fighter corporation, expensive and unresponsive because it doesn't have to worry about any serious oversight.

on Feb 24, 2017

Because it's not stealthy, so any of the Russian S-series air defense missiles and its air-to-air missiles are almost ideally designed to kill it. Since the Russians have sold Iran a buttload of these missiles we and anyone else flying against anyone allied with Iran - like Hezbollah - can expect to see them.

I don't see the Israeli Air Force ordering T-50s or anything like them for actual combat. They chose F-35 and are adding special sauce from their own avionics firms to make it combat-ready.

on Feb 24, 2017

The current and recent past generation Lockheed has PROVEN production management incompetence. Now we have the chance to see them screw up another companys exisiting design. Is this a quest for the absolute worst polarized example of mismanagement ? Dear LM, stick to specialized A/C and leave real production to others. - former worker bee SR-71, L-1011, EP-3.

on Feb 24, 2017

In T-50A's defense, it is primarily a Korean jet with Lockheed Martin acting as a FACO, putting together semi finished modules imported from Korea and a US engine. So the risk is indeed low.

on Feb 24, 2017

Actually, LM has proven just the opposite by manufacturing multiple aircraft at projected or lower prices. The price curve on the F-35 is coming down faster than projected. LM, including General Dynamics whom they bought, successfully produced more jet warbirds than anyone else in the USA, if not the world. They're responsible for the F-16, the most purchased fighter on earth, as well as the F-22, the world's best air superiority fighter, and are now very successfully producing the F-35, the world's best multi-role attack aircraft, bar none.

on Feb 24, 2017


The F-16 was quite affordable when it was being produced by General Dynamics.

Under LM ownership and price gouging, a new F-16 carries the price tag within 90% of a Super Hornet, which is totally unacceptable.

on Feb 24, 2017

It is not "price gouging" ... the higher prices today are due to a combination of inflation and higher capabilities.

In 1975 when the F-16 was a new airframe, $100 would buy what it takes $451.37 to buy today, using the CPI, the most commonly used inflation measure.

As for capabilities, the original F-16 had antiquated avionics and weapons systems, and was designed only as a single-role air superiority fighter. Since then the avionics have been upgraded multiple times and the aircraft was converted into a multi-role fighter/attack aircraft. The structure was upgraded significantly to double the lifetime from 4,000 hours to 8,000 hours, and addititional structural mods were made. Target sensors and weapons management and fire control systems have also been upgraded several times since the original model came out; the latest Block 70s have the latest and greatest AESA radars. The engine has also been upgraded several times from the original engine, which was found to be prone to compressor stalls; the later engines use digital engine controls to eliminate compressor stall and also upped the thrust by about 40%.

So the bottom line is that the F-16s coming off the line today are much superior to the original models in terms of endurance and lifetime, speed, weapons load, and sensor systems.

This is not uncommon at all for warbirds in service for multiple decades. The Super Hornets and F-15s produced in the last decade are far superior to the ones that came online in the 80s and 70s, respectively. And the costs are commensurately much higher both because of the same inflation rate as well as much higher capability.

on Feb 24, 2017


And how do you explain the comparable pricing of the Super Hornet and the F-16?

on Feb 24, 2017

"manufacturing multiple aircraft at projected or lower prices".
Haven't laughed so much in days! You should really take your act on the road. No, seriously, hit the road.

on Feb 25, 2017

Why is that "unacceptable" that the F-16 and Super Hornet are similarly priced?

Both have similar capabilities ... the gross weapons load of an F-16 is within 500 pounds of the Super Hornet ... the F-16 is faster than the Super Hornet, has about the same range as the Super Hornet, and is a more maneuverable fighter than the Super Hornet. They both perform similar roles, the Super Hornet from carriers and the F-16 from land.

The latest Block 70 F-16s have much better AESA radars than the Super Hornet, and can carry any munition in the Air Force inventory designed for attack aircraft, just as the Super Hornet does.

on Feb 24, 2017

"The usual anti-Lockheed folks are up early this morning, I see."
- mk6hunter@outlo.

I will confess that after the C-5A, P-7, F-22 and F-35 I am skeptical of Lockheed's ability to deliver on time, at cost and to specification.

Perhaps Lockheed will deliver what they promise, on time, and at cost. For the sake of America hope they never get the chance.

"A $16B program? Ridiculous. Where are the GOP deficit hawks on this?"
- BS1

They are hibernating. They will return after a Democrat is in the White House.

"Dear LM, stick to specialized A/C and leave real production to others. - former worker bee SR-71, L-1011, EP-3."
- "Ubonspecfixr

All ancient history. A-12/SR-71 1950s design. EP-3, 1950s design (L-188). L-1011, by far the most technically advanced American airliner it's generation (mid-1960s), but too expensive and too late. A commercial failure which almost tanked the company and the last time Lockheed dared to compete for a commercial airliner as unlike the Pentagon the airlines will not put up with endless delays, cost overruns and sub-specification performance.

Lockheed Martin is not the once great firm of Robert E. Gross and Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. It is the firm of Fumble, Finagle & Fraud.

"In T-50A's defense, it is primarily a Korean jet with Lockheed Martin acting as a FACO, putting together semi finished modules imported from Korea and a US engine. So the risk is indeed low."
- SlowMan

It may seem the risk is low but remember not only an airplane is involved. There is extensive simulator and software development to be done. Which if you followed the history of F-22 and F-35 software development means plenty of risk of delays and overruns.

on Feb 24, 2017

Mark - there is minimal software development in manufacturing an existing line of aircraft, and when there are no combat sensors, weapons systems, countermeasures, sensor fusion systems, or fire control systems, as in the F-35. The trainer the AF selects will just have the normal avionics, nav/coms, and systems management stuff you'd see in any commercial business jet.

Don't try and turn a compact pickup truck into rolls royce.

on Feb 24, 2017


"Don't try and turn a compact pickup truck into rolls royce."

Exactly, the T-50A is like a full-size pickup truck hauling lots of stuff while the BTX-1 is a Corolla.

Guess which fleet vehicle the driving school is asking for, a Toyota Corolla or a Ford F250.

There is no contest in the T-X, the BTX-1 already won based on a much lower price and running fuel cost.

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