A GE engine known for its versatility and reliability has hit its latest milestone. On April 9, South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) revealed the first prototype of its GE F414-powered Korea Fighter eXperimental (KF-X), now known as the KF-21
KAI selected the F414 as its KF-X powerplant in May 2016, with the first engine delivery coming in May 2020. It will be the sixth production or prototype aircraft to feature F414 power, alongside some fine company: Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Boeing’s EA-18G Growler, Saab’s JAS 39E/F Gripen, India’s Tejas Mark 2, and Lockheed Martin and NASA’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Transport.
The F414 will join a bevy of other GE military engines currently serving in South Korea’s armed forces, including its F110-powered F-15Ks, its T700-powered KUH-1 Surion helicopters, and its F404-powered T-50 trainer and FA-50 light combat aircraft, among others. The F414-400K engines for the KF-21 are being produced under a localization agreement between GE and Hanwha Aerospace in South Korea, which have enjoyed a successful relationship working together for more than half a century.
GE’s International Program Director for the F414, Heather Caplan, sees GE’s long relationship with South Korea as a major asset as work progresses toward the KF-21’s first flight.
“The KF-21 is yet another excellent chapter in the relationship between GE, KAI and Hanwha to support the South Korean armed forces,” says Caplan. “This program is unique—it’s the first indigenous South Korean fighter. So, we feel an enormous responsibility to ensure we deliver the same F414 quality other customers expect and offer our full support for the upcoming flight tests. It’s very exciting, and we’re really looking forward to seeing this aircraft in the skies.”
The KF-21 is expected to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, with a range of 2,900 kilometers (1,550 nautical miles) and maximum payload of 7,700 kilograms (17,000 lbs.).
With flight testing beginning mid-2022, GE is actively delivering F414 engines for the KF-21 flight test. KAI planned production is 120 KF-21 aircraft to serve the Republic of Korea Air Force. GE will provide 240 F414-400K production engines, as well as spare engines, to power this advanced, 4.5 generation fighter well into the future.
And thanks to that reliable F414 power, the KF-21 will deliver significantly greater mission capability, extended combat radius and longer lifespan compared to current aircraft.
There’s also a historical element to South Korea’s development of the KF-21 that sets up a fitting transition from one GE-powered fleet to the next. The KF-21 is slated to replace two other GE-powered aircraft in the Korean Air Force fleet—the F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II. These Vietnam-era fighter aircraft are powered by GE’s J79 and J85 engines, respectively, and have been staples of the South Korean fleet for decades.
“To have a relationship like this with this key customer and U.S. ally, where they trust your products and support because of many decades of experience, is a point of pride for GE’s military business and especially the F414 team,” Caplan remarked.