South Korea’s KF-21 Begins Ground Tests Ahead Of Imminent First Flight

KF-21 Boramae
A screenshot from the video of the KF-21 during the ground test.

The aircraft was spotted taxiing to the runway at Sacheon airport, home of Korea Aerospace Industries’ facilities.

The first prototype of the KF-21 Boramae (Korean for “Hawk”), the next-generation fighter developed by KAI (Korea Aerospace Industries), was spotted during ground testing and captured in a short video that is now making the rounds online. The aircraft was caught by bystanders at Sacheon airport, home of Korea Aerospace Industries’ production facilities where the prototypes are being built.

The aircraft, unveiled last year by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in as a low-cost, less-stealthy alternative to the American F-35, is expected to be fielded by the ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) by the 2030s to replace its fleet of ageing F-4E Phantom and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft. Six prototypes, including two twin-seat aircraft, are being built to support the testing campaign that is expected to last until 2026, when full scale production is expected to begin.

It is not know when the ground test video was recorded, however it should not be older than a week, as the first engine ignition of the prototype was announced on June 27, 2022. The two General Electric F414-GE-400K afterburning turbofan engines were tested with the prototype secured in the engine test bay. Korean journalists were also invited witness the event.

The video, which you can find here below, shows the KF-21 as it taxies to the runway, where the test pilot performed a run-up to check all the parameters before releasing the brakes and accelerating for a short distance and then slowing down. This first low-speed taxi test will be followed by similar tests, before moving to high-speed taxi tests as the last step before the first flight. Some unconfirmed sources on social medias are reporting that the first flight might happen on July 22.

South Korea and Indonesia agreed in 2014 to jointly develop the fighter in a project worth 7.5 trillion won (6.3B US), with Indonesia committed to paying 20% of the total development cost. South Korea is planning to deploy 40 KF-21s by 2028 and a total of 120 by 2032, while 50 should be deployed by Indonesia.

As we already reported, the KF-21 is strikingly similar to other 5th generation designs (although it is considered a 4.5 gen. aircraft): in particular, the South Korean jet shares much resemblance with the F-22 Raptor including the similar canted twin tails, general nose section and inlet shapings. Interestingly, the “Boramae” also sports a conformal gun above the left air intake, as the F-35A. About 65% of the technology used on the KF-21 is of South Korean origin, including the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar which is currently being tested aboard a modified Boeing 737-500.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.