Bradley Leland is the Lockheed Martin Program Director for the KF-X Program as part of F-35 offset. He has an extensive background in fighter aircraft development, including the F-22, T-50, and F-35 Programs. He has been supporting Korea Aerospace Industries since the beginning of the KF-X program in 2015. -- Ed.
Nearly five years ago, the KF-X Program began. It began with a vision, a vision built upon a 30-year commitment to successfully develop an aerospace industry in Korea.
The KF-X vision was the next step, and the pinnacle of a world-class aerospace industry. The KF-X is an outstanding, indigenous, highly advanced fighter aircraft.
Five years ago, the many professionals at Korea Aerospace Industries, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, and the Republic of Korea’s Air Force began working hard to mature that vision, to turn the vision into reality.
Sept. 3 was a major milestone. On this day, the forward fuselage, center fuselage, and aft fuselage assemblies all came together to make a single airframe. We now have the complete structure of the first KF-X aircraft.
But what you see is not just an airframe structure. It is so much more. It is the result of a long and complex journey, for there is a long distance between a vision and an airframe.
Korea assembled a leadership team, and then embarked on that difficult journey at the end of 2015. They first turned the vision into a set of requirements, which is never easy. But from those requirements they developed a design. And that design was analyzed, refined, and optimized until it could meet those strict requirements in 2019.
But the process had only begun, for next they had to engineer each part -- over 10,000 parts. And each part needed a manufacturing drawing. Each part had to be fabricated precisely. Each part had to be assembled perfectly, and in proper order. For more than two years those parts have been fabricated by fine craftsmen across Korea.
As those parts were completed, assembly began. It began with small sub-assemblies, that led to large assemblies, and finally to aircraft sections by the skilled manufacturing workers at Korea Aerospace Industries.
On Sept. 3, KF-X became a complete airframe, but it represents so much more. It represents hundreds of expert engineers and millions of man-hours of design and analysis. This airframe reflects hundreds of small companies of skilled craftsman across Korea. It reflects the dream and commitment of ROKAF, the leadership of DAPA, the diligence of KAI technicians, and the courage of KAI management. Today, all of Korea can be proud.
I have learned to never underestimate the power of the Korean people. Many thousands of people working together, working toward one common vision.
Now you can see the vision is becoming reality. Soon the systems will be installed and tested. Soon the airplane will come to life with electrical power. Soon it will move on its own wheels, using its own jet engines.
And soon this airframe will become an airplane, and it will fly. And as you can already see, she will be beautiful.
By Bradley Leland