South Korea’s Domestically Developed KF-21 Boramae Makes First Flight

KF-21 during the first flight (DAPA)

The KF-21 Boramae has just made its maiden flight.

The first prototype of the KF-21 Boramae (Korean for “Hawk”), the next-generation fighter developed by KAI (Korea Aerospace Industries), carried out its first flight on at Sacheon airport, home of Korea Aerospace Industries’ production facilities some 300 kilometers south of Seoul, South Korea, on Jul. 19, 2022.

The KF-21, serial 001, took off at 3:40 p.m. and landed at 4:13 p.m. for the first airborne test, according to DAPA, the state Defense Acquisition Program Administration.

South Korea and Indonesia agreed in 2014 to jointly develop the next generation 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 to replace the service’s ageing F-4 Phantoms, while 50 should be deployed by Indonesia. For this reason, the aircraft sported the Indonesian flag along with the Korean one during the first flight.

As we have already explained in details here at The Aviationist, the aircraft, unveiled last year and developed 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 should begin with KF-21 Block I.

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 shaping. 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.

The 4.5-generation fighter will be equipped with air-to-air missiles, including the MBDA Meteor: one of the most interesting things about the maiden flight on Jul. 19, 2022, is that the “001” prototype carried four inert Meteors under the fuselage.

While the aircraft will be mostly equipped with domestic technology, the ejection seat used by the KF-21 is a brand new custom type produced by Martin-Baker: the KF-21, both the single and twin seat variants, is in fact the launch customer of the first Mk18 Seat, known as the KR18A, a type of ejection seat similar to the US16E used by the F-35, but smaller in size to fit in the Boramae cockpit, that features Generation V Harness, Water Activated Release System (MWARS), Neck Protection Device (NPD) and the Martin-Baker Sequencer.

The KR18A was on display, next to a KF-21 nose section mock-up, at the Martin-Baker booth at Farnborough Airshow currently underway at Farnborough, UK, where we had a chance to see it.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by David Cenciotti (@theaviationist)

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.