Turkish Fighter Christened ‘Kaan’ In Formal Rollout


Credit: Tony Osborne/Aviation Week

ANKARA, Turkey—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formally named the country’s new TF-X indigenous fighter on May 1 as the aircraft was being publicly unveiled for the first time.

Christening the aircraft Kaan—Turkish for king—Erdogan said it represented a “dream that the nation had been pursuing since the foundation of the Republic” 100 years earlier.

The aircraft performed an engines-running slow taxi in front of a crowd of Turkish Aerospace workers and their families at the company’s facilities here before shutting down in front of a stage where Erdogan spoke.

The reveal of the aircraft, one of the centerpieces of Erdogan’s efforts to grow the country’s aerospace and defense industry, comes less than two weeks before general elections. High-technology projects such as the combat aircraft program as well as armed uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) have become key visuals in Erdogan’s campaign for re-election.

The aircraft displayed May 1 is a flyable prototype that officials say could be airborne by year’s end, Ugur Zengin, Turkish Aerospace’s executive vice president for the Turkish Fighter program, told Aviation Week’s Aerospace DAILY. Aviation Week was the only Western media present for the rollout event.

“It has all the systems required for a first flight, but mission systems will be installed later,” Zengin said. 

A second prototype due to fly in 2025 is currently beginning the production process and will be almost representative of early production aircraft, he adds.

It had been previously suggested that the first prototype might not fly until 2025, but Zengin said that simulation and iron bird testing was building confidence in the maturity of the aircraft’s systems.

“We have all the testing infrastructure and a very broad experience on testing the aircraft, so that gives us the confidence to fly as early as possible,” he said.

Seven flying prototypes are envisioned for the Kaan development program. While the first prototype revealed is largely representative of the Kaan aircraft, final decisions have yet to be made on the configuration of the weapons bays. Like the Lockheed Martin F-22, Kaan features a weapons bay on each air intake for short-range air-to-air missiles, but the configuration of the main weapons bay has yet to be formally decided. Work is also continuing on the low-observable technologies around coatings, materials and faceting that will reduce the platform’s cross section.

Part of that effort includes Turkish Aerospace investment in a radar-cross section (RCS) test facility, primarily to support Kaan as well as work on uncrewed combat aircraft systems. The creation of the RCS range is part of the major investments into Turkish Aerospace’s Ankara facility, which also include the building of a wind tunnel complex and anechoic chambers.

Zengin also said the program calls for the development of a flying testbed—potentially a modified business jet—to support full mission system testing.

The first prototypes and early batches of aircraft will be powered by the F-16’s General Electric F110, an engine that Turkish industry is familiar with, as F110s destined for Turkish F-16s are assembled in-country. A program to develop a national fighter engine is now being pursued by domestic engine firms TR Motor and TUSAS Engine Industries.

More broadly, the aircraft makes extensive use of an ecosystem of domestic suppliers that has rapidly matured through its involvement on programs such as the Hurkus turboprop trainer and the Hurjet advanced jet trainer, which flew for the first time in late April. 

“Those suppliers will become more mature through TF-X, getting better on the design, testing, qualification and certification,” Zengin added.

The Turkish Air Force envisions replacing its F-16s with the Kaan fighter starting in the 2030s, although no details on the numbers to be procured have been revealed.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.