MANILA — The newly-arrived and commissioned South Korean-made FA-50PH “Fighting Eagle” lift-interim fighter aircraft is now armed with a variant of the American AIM-9 “Sidewinder” heat-seeking missile.

The weapons are fitted to the wingtip rails of the Korea Aerospace Industries-made FA-50PHs.

“AIM” stands for air-intercept missile.

These weapons were seen fitted to the wingtip rails of the FA-50PHs during the celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 80th founding anniversary in Clark Air Base, Angeles City, Pampanga last Dec. 21.

Philippine Air Force (PAF) spokesperson Col. Enrico Canaya confirmed that the weapons fitted to the newly-acquired jets were “Sidewinder” missiles.

“Sidewinder is a basic weapon of the FA-50PH,” he added.

But Canaya did not give details on how the weapons were acquired and its capability.

Sidewinder variants utilize infrared homing for guidance and tracking.

The AIM-9 is one of the oldest, least expensive, and most successful air-to-air missiles, with an estimated 270 aircraft kills in its history of use.

The missile has a top speed of Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound.

Its warhead weighs around 20 pounds and the missile has a length of nine feet and 11 inches.

Aside from the AIM-9, the FA-50PHs are fitted with a three-barrel 20mm internal cannon which can be used for “dog-fighting” or close-in air combat.

Two of the country’s first FA-50PH jet aircraft arrived at Clark Air Base, Angeles City, Pampanga last Nov. 28.

These two are part of the 12-plane order from KAI which amounted to PhP18.9 billion.

The F/A-50 (the other designation for the FA-50PH) is capable of being fitted with air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air and heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles.

It will act as the country’s interim fighter until the Philippines get enough experience of operating fast jet assets and money to fund the acquisition of more capable fighter aircraft.

Incidentally, the F/A-50 design is largely derived from the F-16 and they have many similarities: use of a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons.

KAI’s previous engineering experience in license-producing the KF-16 was a starting point for the development of the F/A-50.

The aircraft can carry two pilots in tandem seating. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility, and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against four-pound objects impacting at 400 knots.

The altitude limit is 14,600 meters (48,000 feet), and airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service.

There are seven internal fuel tanks with capacity of 2,655 liters (701 US gallons), five in the fuselage and two in the wings.

An additional 1,710 liters (452 US gallons) of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.

Trainer variants have a paint scheme of white and red, and aerobatic variants white, black, and yellow.

The F/A-50 uses a single General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine license-produced by Samsung Techwin, upgraded with a full authority digital engine control system jointly developed by General Electric and Korean Aerospace Industries.

The engine consists of three-staged fans, seven axial stage arrangement, and an afterburner.

Its engine produces a maximum of 78.7 kN (17,700 lbf) of thrust with afterburner. Priam F. Nepomuceno/PNA/northboundasia.com