South Korean KF-21 fighter jet assembly line unveiled to the public

According to Asian Defence, the KF-21 prototype has to go through a year or so of ground testing. KAI opened up the KF-21 assembly line to the Hankyoreh, the first South Korean newspaper to gain access to the site.

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South Korean KF 21 fighter jet assembly line unveiled to the public.1KAI KF-21 being assembled (Picture source: KAI)

The first prototype is currently in the building opposite the assembly line, where its insides are exposed for ground testing which will take another year or so, a report in South Korean media outlet Hankyoreh which was granted access to the assembly line, said.

Almost the entire assembly process is done by hand, Asian Defence reports. During the unprecedented visit, twenty engineers were working together to load missiles on the second prototype. ”Airplanes can’t be welded because they’re made of aluminum and other special materials. We assemble the fuselage and attach wings to the fuselage by drilling lots of holes on both sides for inserting rivets. A single wing needs more than 10,000 rivets,” said Lee Il-woo, a senior engineer on the KF-21 project. “The interior of the fighter has a complicated latticework designed to continue functioning even if some parts are damaged by gunfire during a dogfight. Electronic equipment runs from the cockpit to the ends of the wings,” Lee said.

The KAI KF-21 Boramae/Fighting Hawk (formerly known as KF-X) is a joint South Korean/Indonesian 4.5 generation fighter aircraft development program with the goal of producing an advanced multi-role fighter for the South Korean and Indonesian air forces. The airframe is stealthier than other 4th-generation fighters but does not carry weapons in internal bays like 5th-generation fighters, though internal bays may be introduced later in development. The program is led by the South Korean government, which holds 60% of the program's shares. Indonesia took a 20% stake in the program in 2010, and the remaining 20% is held by private partners including the manufacturer Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI). The KAI KF-X is South Korea's second domestic fighter jet development program, following the FA-50.

In April 2021, the first prototype was completed and unveiled during a rollout ceremony at the headquarters of KAI in Sacheon. It was officially given the name Boramae (literally 'young hawk' or 'eyas'). The first flight test is scheduled for 2022, with the entire development process set to be completed by 2026. The South Korean Air Force plans to induct 40 KF-21 units by 2028 and another 80 units by 2032. At least 40 aircraft are planned to be delivered by 2028, with South Korea expecting to deploy a total of 120 of the aircraft by 2032. It will also be available for the export market.

As per a deal with Indonesia, South Korea is to hand over one prototype and technology to Jakarta to manufacture the aircraft in Indonesia where the KF-X development program is referred to as the IF-X program. The Jakarta Globe reported that the completed aircraft will receive the designation F-33.

South Korean KF 21 fighter jet assembly line unveiled to the public.2KAI KF-21 being assembled (Picture source: KAI)

South Korean KF 21 fighter jet assembly line unveiled to the public 2KAI KF-21 Boramae (Picture source: Wikipedia)