The aerial demonstration team of the Republic of Korea Air Force, the Black Eagles, traded its standard-issue orange and white T-50 trainers for glossy black, white, and yellow T-50Bs for its 2011 show season.
The last of a total of ten T-50Bs built for the team arrived in January 2011. The Black Eagles flew their first public all-T-50B flight the following March—a flyover for an officer commissioning ceremony at the Korean Armed Forces headquarters in Gyeryong. The team flew its first formal full demonstration with the new aircraft on 1 April at Wonju AB, home base for the Black Eagles, which is about ninety miles east of Seoul.
“The crowd for our first official show at Wonju was relatively small but very significant,” recounted Lt. Col. Daeseo Park, commander of the Black Eagles. “VIPs from the Air Force and Korea Aerospace Industries, the builder of our jets, attended. About forty former members of the Black Eagles also came to see the newest aircraft perform. All were very pleased with what they saw.”
That demonstration was the first of more than twenty displays already flown or planned to fly for the 2011 season. The pinnacle performances for the Black Eagles comes in mid October when the team flies in front of large and international crowds at the 2011 Seoul Aerospace & Defense Exhibition, or ADEX.
“The Black Eagle team looks forward to representing Korea and ROKAF at ADEX,” Park said. The purpose of the demonstration team is to show the public the strength of ROKAF and the expertise of its military pilots. The demonstration also highlights the aircraft—its maneuverability and speed. “The T-50 also represents a huge technical achievement of our aerospace industry. Overall, we operate some beautiful jets and fly an impressive routine.”
The routine has been modified since the Black Eagles began performing with the T-50 in 2009 (and since the routine was first described in Code One in 2010).
The team changed the routine for several reasons. “The new routine takes advantage of the longer duration of the T-50B’s smoke system,” explained Park, the team’s first leader after it adopted the T-50. The routine added some maneuvers that highlight the low-speed maneuverability of the aircraft “We also made the show more dynamic because of our increased familiarity and comfort level with the aircraft,” he continued. “We do more dramatic maneuvers with the large formation, and we highlight the maximum thrust abilities of the aircraft.”
The team performs two basic routines—a high show and a low show—depending on weather conditions. The low show, designed for weather-restricted days, has most of the same maneuvers as the high show, with some of the lower altitude maneuvers substituted for higher altitude maneuvers. The team also performs weather and celebration shows, which are scaled back versions for poorer weather conditions and for special event flyovers at (usually from their home base at Wonju).
The high show begins with a series of takeoffs: two three-ship T-50s taking off in arrow formation followed by a two-ship in side-by-side formation. The entire team rejoins and flies a loop in an eight-ship T formation.
“The most impressive formation to me is the T-formation,” explained Capt. Kwang-Hwi Cho, one of the two newest recruits to the Black Eagles. Cho is training to be the next No. 2 pilot. The formation involves five aircraft flying line abreast and three trailing the team lead, who flies in the middle of the line abreast. Keeping such a formation tight in a loop demands some real flying skills. And these flying skills are not something a pilot can learn in a simulator. “We learn them by first performing them in wide formations and then by flying closer and closer as we gain proficiency.”
The loop in a T-formation is followed by a formation roll and a diamond pass. The team maintains its eight ship formation in a change turn—a large flat circle in which the formation changes from a diamond, to a wedge, to an eagle. The next pass involves an eight-ship roll in a stinger formation, which is followed by a bon ton roll and then a clover loop.
The formation goes high and then straight down, separating individually at equal angles for the rainfall maneuver. Rainfall is the favorite maneuver of Maj. Wook-Cheon Jeon, team leader, who flies in the No. 1 position. “I think it is the most impressive maneuver when I watch videos of our routine and gauge audience reactions,” he explained. “But this was also one of the more difficult maneuvers for the team to perfect. So I have an insider’s appreciation of it as well.”
After the rainfall, the team breaks up into three parts: a four-ship main formation consisting of No. 1, No. 2 Left Wing position, No. 3 Right Wing position, and No. 4 Slot position; a two-ship Synchro team consisting of Sychro1 (No. 5 position) and Synchro 2 (No. 6 position); and a Solo team consisting of Solo 1 (No. 7 position) and Solo 2 (No. 8 position). The pilots refer to themselves in these terms as well, for example as No. 7 Solo 1.
The rainfall maneuver is followed by a scissor pass, a double cross turn, and a goose maneuver (see illustrations for details). The Solo and Synchro groups use their smoke generators to create a heart shape pierced with a cupid arrow. A single T-50 then comes by show center for a slow flight, demonstrating the low-speed handling characteristics of the T-50. “In slow flight, the aircraft’s nose blocks the forward view from the cockpit because the aircraft is flying at a twenty-five degree angle,” noted Maj. Soon-Hong Hong, who flies the maneuver as the No. 8 opposing solo. “The airspeed is just 115 knots.”
After the slow flight, a six-ship formation returns for a roll back and afterburner loop maneuver. “The afterburner loop is the most difficult maneuver we fly,” explained Jeon who, as No. 1, leads the formation. The maneuver starts at low speed and low thrust. All team members then push the throttles to maximum power at the same time. “Because the engines can spool up at slightly different rates, maintaining formation takes great skill and practice.”
The Solo group then returns to create a Taeguk, the ying-yang symbol featured in the middle of the Korean flag. “The Taeguk is very popular with crowds because it represents our national flag,” said Cho. “The maneuver coincidentally highlights the high- and low-speed maneuverability of the T-50. To complete the inside and outside of the image together, the aircraft making the outer circle must turn hard at a very high speed while the aircraft making the inside circle must turn hard at a very low speed.”
The high show continues with the other six aircraft returning for a downward bomb burst. This maneuver is followed by the Synchro aircraft splitting up to fly an eight-point roll and a continuous roll. The Solo group then returns for a screw roll in which No. 8 flies aileron rolls around No. 7, who flies straight and level. “The screw roll is the most dynamic maneuver performed by the Solo aircraft,” noted Hong, who gets to fly the four 360-degree rolls around No. 7. “It is much harder than it looks. It takes a lot of time and a lot of practice to get it right.”
The Synchro group returns for the Calypso pass. The main formation, this time as a four-ship, comes in for a snake roll and then a dizzying break and a rolling combat pitch.
The show continues—a single T-50 performs a max turn and loop. The team rejoins as an eight-ship wedge formation to perform the grand finale—a victory break. The T-50s rejoin and fly parallel to the runway for individual pitch up landings. Each aircraft lands individually and taxis in front of the audience.
“The best part of the job comes just after we land,” said Hong, who taxies in last. “We park the jets, turn off the engines, walk on stage, and experience the audience reaction. Once a woman in the audience grabbed my hand and told me that our demonstration made her proud to be a Korean. That was extremely gratifying for me and something I will never forget.”