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Taiwan’s indigenously developed Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) T-5 BRAVE EAGLE conducted its official first flight on 22 June 2020. This marked Taiwan’s first indigenously developed high-performance jet since the F-CK-1 CHING-KUO indigenous defence fighter made its first flight 31 years ago. The test flight was conducted in front of President Tsai Ing-wen.

The first prototype T-5A1, serial number 11001, took off from CCK AFB in Taichung at 09:20 for a 12-minute test flight with test pilots Lu Chih-Yuan and Kuan Yen-Nien. The entire flight was conducted above 5,000 feet. The Aerospace Industrial Developmental Corporation (AIDC) is slated to deliver a total of 66 airframes and 26 ground-based training systems (GTBS) before 2026. The programme cost is estimated to be around US$2.3Bn.

Photo: via Author

Development began in 2017 as a joint effort between the Air Force Aeronautical R&D Center, the Aeronautical Systems Research Division of the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), and AIDC. The T-5 will replace the AT-3 and F-5E/Fs currently operated by the Taiwan Air Force in advanced trainer and Lead in fighter trainer (LIFT) roles respectively, and streamline pilot training from three types of aircraft into two.

The T-5 design was based on the F-CK-1, powered by the ITEC F124 with additional use of composite materials consisting of over 30% of its construction. The trainer’s wing chord was thickened, fuel capacity increased, and equipped with a wider set landing gear, as well as digital anti-skid system in order to facilitate required performance and handling characteristics. Significant portion of the plane’s software and hardware are of domestic design, including the flight control OFP software, Integrated Mission Computer, and flight control integrated servo actuators.

While the jet was not equipped with a fire-control radar, the onboard ZAH-1400A network communication radio would allow, for the first time, datalink capability for Taiwan’s jet trainer. Developed by NCSIST and AIDC, the device is expected to allow the trainer to relay flight data such as position and altitude, as well as the emulation of frontline jets equipped with advanced radar and EW systems in conjunction with the Augmented Reality (AR) based GBTS on the ground. The GTBS will be capable of uploading a variety of battlefield scenarios to the trainer, including virtual threats and wingman. Currently however, the system has yet to undergo extensive testing and evaluation by the Air Force R&D Center.

Addressing concerns regarding insufficient height of the rear seating resulting in obstructed view for the instructor pilot, test pilot Kuen explained that the rear cockpit was equipped with a 4K visual display, duplicating the view and telemetry as seen by the cadet pilot in the front, and a standard set of duplicated flight controls were also provided for the IP.

Taiwan’s indigenously developed Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) T-5 BRAVE EAGLE (Photo: J.D. Kitsch)

The jet will undergo further development and testing for another 9-10 months, with additional static testing on the second prototype to verify a service life of 8000 flight hours, or 30 years. Other than the 4 prototypes so far, the first 6 production aircrafts are expected to be delivered by late 2021, entering low-rate initial production in 2022, and full-scale production between 2023-2025, with the last of the 66 airframes to be delivered in early 2026.

According to Air Force officials, since the T-5 is required to fulfil the role of both advanced jet trainer and LIFT roles, it is expected be capable of carrying ordinance and perform combat missions in the future.

J.D. Kitsch