1:72 KAI/Lockheed Martin TA-50 ‘Golden Eagle TF.1’, ‘2-D’ (s/n 50-04) of No. 2 (Fìobha) Squadron, Poblachd na h-Alba Adhair an Airm (Republic of Scotland Air Corps/RoScAC); Leuchars Station, Fifeshire, Republic of Scotland, 2020 (Whif/Academy kit)
+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based historical facts. BEWARE!
The KAI T-50 Golden Eagle (골든이글) is a family of South Korean supersonic advanced trainers and light combat aircraft, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with Lockheed Martin. The T-50 is South Korea's first indigenous supersonic aircraft and one of the world's few supersonic trainers.
The T-50 program started in the late Nineties and was originally intended to develop an indigenous trainer aircraft capable of supersonic flight, to train and prepare pilots for the KF-16 and F-15K, replacing trainers such as T-38 and A-37 that were then in service with the ROKAF. Prior South Korean aircraft programs include the turboprop KT-1 basic trainer produced by Daewoo Aerospace (now part of KAI), and license-manufactured KF-16.
The mother program, code-named KTX-2, began in 1992, but the Ministry of Finance and Economy suspended the original project in 1995 due to financial constraints. The basic design of the aircraft was set by 1999, and eventually the development of the aircraft was funded 70% by the South Korean government, 17% by KAI, and 13% by Lockheed Martin.
In general, the T-50 series of aircraft closely resembles the KF-16 in configuration, but it actually is a completely new design: the T-50 is 11% smaller and 23% lighter than an F-16, and in order to create enough space for the two-seat cockpit, the air intake was bifurcated and placed under the wing gloves, resembling the F/A-18's layout.
The aircraft was formally designated as the T-50 'Golden Eagle' in February 2000, the T-50A designation had been reserved by the U.S. military to prevent it from being inadvertently assigned to another aircraft model. Final assembly of the first T-50 took place between 15 January and 14 September 2001. The first flight of the T-50 took place in August 2002, and initial operational assessment from 28 July to 14 August 2003.
The trainer has a cockpit for two pilots in a tandem arrangement, both crew members sitting in "normal" election seats, not in the F-16's reclined position. The high-mounted canopy is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility, and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against 4-lb objects impacting at 400 knots.
The ROKAF, as original development driver, placed an initial production contract for 25 T-50s in December 2003, with aircraft scheduled to be delivered between 2005 and 2009. Original T-50 aircraft were equipped with the AN/APG-67(v)4 radar from Lockheed Martin. The T-50 trainer is powered by a GE F404 engine built under license by Samsung Techwin. Under the terms of the T-50/F404-102 co-production agreement, GE provides engine kits directly to Samsung Techwin who produces designated parts as well as performing final engine assembly and testing.
The T-50 program quickly expanded beyond a pure trainer concept to include the TA-50 armed trainer aircraft, as well as the FA-50 light attack aircraft, which has already similar capabilities as the multirole KF-16. Reconnaissance and electronic warfare variants were also being developed, designated as RA-50 and EA-50.
The TA-50 variant is a more heavily armed version of the T-50 trainer, intended for lead-in fighter training and light attack roles. It is equipped with an Elta EL/M-2032 fire control radar and designed to operate as a full-fledged combat platform. This variant mounts a lightweight three-barrel cannon version of the M61 Vulcan internally behind the cockpit, which fires linkless 20 mm ammunition. Wingtip rails can accommodate the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, a variety of additional weapons can be mounted to underwing hardpoints, including precision-guided weapons, air-to-air missiles, and air-to-ground missiles. The TA-50 can also mount additional utility pods for reconnaissance, targeting assistance, and electronic warfare. Compatible air-to-surface weapons include the AGM-65 Maverick missile, Hydra 70 and LOGIR rocket launchers, CBU-58 and Mk-20 cluster bombs, and Mk-82, -83, and -84 general purpose bombs.
Among the operators of the TA-50 are the Philippines, Thailand and the ROKAF, and the type has attracted a global interest, also in Europe. The young Republic of Scotland Air Corps (locally known as Poblachd na h-Alba Adhair an Airm) chose, soon after the country's independence from the United Kingdom, after its departure from the European Union in 2017, the TA-50 as a complement to its initial procurements and add more flexibility to its small and young air arm.
According to a White Paper published by the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 2013, an independent Scotland would have an air force equipped with up to 16 air defense aircraft, six tactical transports, utility rotorcraft and maritime patrol aircraft, and be capable of “contributing excellent conventional capabilities” to NATO. Outlining its ambition to establish an air force with an eventual 2,000 uniformed personnel and 300 reservists, the SNP stated the organization would initially be equipped with “a minimum of 12 interceptors in the Eurofighter/Typhoon class, based at Lossiemouth, a tactical air transport squadron, including around six [Lockheed Martin] C-130J Hercules, and a helicopter squadron”.
According to the document, “Key elements of air forces in place at independence, equipped initially from a negotiated share of current UK assets, will secure core tasks, principally the ability to police Scotland’s airspace, within NATO.” An in-country air command and control capability would be established within five years of a decision in favor of independence, it continues, with staff also to be “embedded within NATO structures”.
This plan was immediately set into action after the country's independence in late 2017 with the purchase of twelve refurbished Saab JAS 39A Gripen interceptors for Quick Reaction Alert duties and upgraded, former Swedish Air Force Sk 90 trainers for the RoScAC. But these second hand machines were just the initial step in the mid-term procurement plan.
The twelve KAI TA-50 aircraft procured as a second step were to fulfill the complex requirement for a light and cost-effective multi-purpose aircraft that could be used in a wide variety of tasks: primarily as an advanced trainer for supersonic flight and as a trainer for the fighter role (since all Scottish Gripens were single seaters and dedicated to the interceptor/air defense role), but also as a light attack and point defense aircraft.
Scotland was offered refurbished F-16C and Ds, but this was declined as the type was deemed to be too costly and complex. Beyond the KAI T-50, the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master and the BAe Hawk were considered, too, but, eventually, a modified TA-50 that was tailored to the RoScAC’s procurement plans was chosen by the Scottish government.
In order to fulfill the complex duty profile, the Scottish TA-50s were upgraded with elements from the FA-50 attack aircraft. They possess more internal fuel capacity, enhanced avionics, a longer radome and a tactical datalink. Its EL/M-2032 pulse-Doppler radar has been modified so that it offers now a range two-thirds greater than the TA-50's standard radar. It enables the aircraft to operate in any weather, detect surface targets and deploy AIM-120 AAMs for BVR interceptions. The machines can also be externally fitted with Rafael's Sky Shield or LIG Nex1's ALQ-200K ECM pods, Sniper or LITENING targeting pods, and Condor 2 reconnaissance pods to further improve the machine’s electronic warfare, reconnaissance, and targeting capabilities.
Another unique feature of the Scottish Golden Eagle is its powerplant: even though the machines are originally powered by a single General Electric F404 afterburning turbofan and designed around this engine, the RoScAC TF-50s are powered by a Volvo RM12 low-bypass afterburning turbofan. These are procured and serviced through Saab in Sweden, as a part of the long-term collaboration contract for the RoScAC’s Saab Gripen fleet. This decision was taken in order to decrease overall fleet costs through a unified engine.
The RM12 is a derivative of the General Electric F404-400. Changes from the standard F404 includes greater reliability for single-engine operations (including more stringent birdstrike protection) and slightly increased thrust. Several subsystems and components were also re-designed to reduce maintenance demands, and the F404's analogue Engine Control Unit was replaced with the Digital Engine Control – jointly developed by Volvo and GE – which communicates with the cockpit through the digital data buses and, as redundancy, mechanical calculators controlled by a single wire will regulate the fuel-flow into the engine.
Another modification of the RoScAC’s TA-50 is the exchange of the original General Dynamics A-50 3-barrel rotary cannon for a single barrel Mauser BK-27 27mm revolver cannon. Being slightly heavier and having a lower cadence, the BK-27 featured a much higher kinetic energy, accuracy and range. Furthermore, the BK-27 is the standard weapon of the other, Sweden-built aircraft in RoScAC service, so that further synergies and cost reductions were expected.
The Scottish Department of National Defense announced the selection of the TA-50 in August 2018, after having procured refurbished Saab Sk 90 and JAS 39 Gripen from Sweden as initial outfit of the country's small air arm with No. 1 Squadron based at Lossiemouth AB.
Funding for the twelve aircraft was approved by Congress on September 2018 and worth € 420 mio., making the Golden Eagle the young country’s first brand new military aircraft. Deliveries of the Golden Hawk TF.1, how the type was officially designated in Scottish service, began in November 2019, lasting until December 2020.
The first four Scottish Golden Hawk TF.1 aircraft were allocated to the newly established RoScAC No. 2 Squadron, based at Leuchars, where the RoScAC took control from the British Army. The latter had just taken over the former air base from the RAF in 2015, losing its “RAF air base” status and was consequentially re-designated “Leuchars Station”, primarily catering to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who have, in the meantime, become part of Scotland’s Army Corps. The brand new machines were publically displayed on the shared army and air corps facility in the RoScAC’s new paint scheme on 1st of December 2019 for the first time, and immediately took up service.
Length: 13.14 m (43.1 ft)
Wingspan (with wingtip missiles): 9.45 m (31 ft)
Height: 4.94 m (16.2 ft)
Wing area: 23.69 m² (255 ft²)
Empty weight: 6,470 kg (14,285 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 12,300 kg (27,300 lb)
1× Volvo RM12 afterburning turbofan, rated at 54 kN (12,100 lbf) dry thrust
and 80.5 kN (18,100 lbf) with afterburner
Maximum speed: Mach 1.5 (1,640 km/h, 1,020 mph at 9,144 m or 30,000 ft)
Range: 1,851 km (1,150 mi)
Service ceiling: 14,630 m (48,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 198 m/s (39,000 ft/min)
Max g limit: -3 g / +8 g
1× 27mm Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon with 120 rounds
A total of 7 hardpoints (4 underwing, 2 wingtip and one under fuselage)
for up to 3,740 kg (8,250 lb) of payload
The kit and its assembly:
A rare thing concerning my builds: an alternative reality whif. A fictional air force of an independent Scotland crept into my mind after the hysterical “Brexit” events in 2016 and the former (failed) public vote concerning the independence of Scotland from the UK. What would happen to the military, if the independence would take place, nevertheless, and British forces left the country?
The aforementioned Scottish National Party (SNP) paper from 2013 is real, and I took it as a benchmark. Primary focus would certainly be set on air space defense, and the Gripen appears as a good and not too expensive choice. The Sk 90 is a personal invention, but would fulfill a good complementary role.
Nevertheless, another multi-role aircraft would make sense as an addition, and both M-346 and T-50 caught my eye (Russian options were ruled out due to the tense political relations), and I gave the TA-50 the “Go” because of its engine and its proximity to the Gripen.
The T-50 really looks like the juvenile offspring from a date between an F-16 and an F-18. There’s even a kit available, from Academy – but it’s a Snap-Fit offering without a landing gear but, as an alternative, a clear display that can be attached to the engine nozzle. It also comes with stickers instead of waterslide decals. This sounds crappy and toy-like, but, after taking a close look at kit reviews, I gave it a try.
And I am positively surprised. While the kit consists of only few parts, moulded in the colors of a ROCAF trainer as expected, the surfaces have minute, engraved detail. Fit is very good, too, and there’s even a decent cockpit that’s actually better than the offering of some “normal” model kits. The interior comes with multi-part seats, side consoles and dashboards that feature correctly shaped instrument details (no decals). The air intakes are great, too: seamless, with relatively thin walls, nice!
So far, so good. But not enough. I could have built the kit OOB with the landing gear tucked up, but I went for the more complicated route and trans-/implanted the complete landing gear from an Intech F-16, which is available for less than EUR 5,- (and not much worth, to be honest). AFAIK, there’s white metal landing gear for the T-50 available from Scale Aircraft Conversions, but it’s 1:48 and for this set’s price I could have bought three Intech F-16s…
But back to the conversion. This landing gear transplantation stunt sounds more complicated as it actually turned out to be. For the front wheel well I simply cut a long opening into the fuselage and added inside a styrene sheet as a well roof, attached under the cockpit floor.
For the main landing gear I just opened the flush covers on the T-50 fuselage, cut out the interior from the Intech F-16, tailored it a little and glued it into its new place.
This was made easy by the fact that the T-50 is a bit smaller than the F-16, so that the transplants are by tendency a little too large and offer enough “flesh” for adaptations. Once in place, the F-16 struts were mounted (also slightly tailored to fit well) and covers added. The front wheel cover was created with 0.5 mm styrene sheet, for the main covers I used the parts from the Intech F-16 kit because they were thinner than the leftover T-50 fuselage parts and feature some surface detail on the inside. They had to be adapted in size, though. But the operation worked like a charm, highly recommended!
Around the hull, some small details like missing air scoops, some pitots and antennae were added. In a bout of boredom (while waiting for ordered parts…) I also added static dischargers on the aerodynamic surfaces’ trailing edges – the kit comes with obvious attachment points, and they are a small detail that improves the modern look of the T-50 even more.
Since the Academy kit comes clean with only a ventral drop tank as ordnance, underwing pylons from a SEPECAT Jaguar (resin aftermarket parts from Pavla) and a pair of AGM-65 from the Italeri NATO Weapons set plus launch rails were added, plus a pair of Sidewinders (from a Hasegawa AAM set, painted as blue training rounds) on the wing tip launch rails.
Since the T-50 trainer comes unarmed, a gun nozzle had to be added – its position is very similar to the gun on board of the F-16, on the upper side of the port side LERX. Another addition are conformal chaff/flare dispensers at the fin’s base, adding some beef to the sleek aircraft.
Painting and markings:
I did not want a grey-in-grey livery, yet something “different” and rather typical or familiar for the British isles. My approach is actually a compromise, with classic RAF colors and design features inspired by camouflage experiments of the German Luftwaffe on F-4F Phantoms and Alpha Jets in the early Eighties.
For the upper sides I went for a classic British scheme, in Dark Green and Dark Sea Grey (Humbrol 163 and 164), colors I deem very appropriate for the Scottish landscape and for potential naval operations. These were combined with elements from late RAF interceptors: Barley Grey (Humbrol 167) for the flanks including the pylons, plus Light Aircraft Grey (Humbrol 166) for the undersides, with a relatively high waterline and a grey fin, so that a side or lower view would rather blend with the sky than the ground below.
Another creative field were the national markings: how could fictional Scottish roundels look like, and how to create them so that they are easy to make and replicate (for a full set for this kit, as well as for potential future builds…)? Designing and printing marking decals myself was an option, but I eventually settled for a composite solution which somewhat influenced the roundels’ design, too.
My Scottish roundel interpretation consists of a blue disk with a white cross – it’s simple, different from any other contemporary national marking, esp. the UK roundel, and easy to create from single decal parts. In fact, the blue roundels were die-punched from blue decal sheet, and the cross consists of two thin white decal strips, cut into the correct length with the same stencil, using generic sheet material from TL Modellbau.
Another issue was the potential tactical code, and a small fleet only needs a simple system. Going back to a WWII system with letter codes for squadrons and individual aircraft was one option, but, IMHO, too complicated. I adopted the British single letter aircraft code, though, since this system is very traditional, but since the RoScAC would certainly not operate too many squadrons, I rather adapted a system similar to the Swedish or Spanish format with a single number representing the squadron. The result is a simple 2-digit code, and I adapted the German system of placing the tactical code on the fuselage, separated by the roundel. Keeping British traditions up I repeated the individual aircraft code letter on the fin, where a Scottish flag, a small, self-printed Fife coat-or-arms and a serial number were added, too.
The kit saw only light weathering and shading, and the kit was finally sealed with matt acrylic varnish (Italeri).
Creating this whif, based on an alternative historic timeline with a near future perspective, was fun – and it might spawn more models that circle around the story. A Scottish Sk 90 and a Gripen are certain options (and for both I have kits in the stash…), but there might also be an entry level trainer, some helicopters for the army and SAR duties, as well as a transport aircraft. The foundation has been laid out, now it’s time to fill Scotland’s history to come with detail and proof. ;-)
Besides, despite being a snap-fit kit, Academy’s T-50 is a nice basis, reminding me of some Hobby Boss kits but with less flaws (e .g. most of the interiors), except for the complete lack of a landing gear. But with the F-16 and Jaguar transplants the simple kit developed into something more convincing.