For this town, the sky is not the limitThey all piled in one recent weekday afternoon, throngs of young students on a field trip to Korea Aerospace Industries, the country’s sole aircraft manufacturer, at the Jinsa Industrial Complex in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang province.
Clustered around the company’s outdoor Aerospace Museum, which has has over 20 aircraft on display, one boy in the group shouted his question, which was really more of a statement: “How could a plane that huge fly?”
The crowd moved on, stopping in front of B-29. When a guide said it was the same type of plane that dropped the nuclear bomb over Hiroshima, the children shivered, or at least pretended to. Inside, they gazed over a chronology of significant advances in aerospace technology and aircraft models since the time of the Wright brothers, dividing the history of the aerospace field into its major periods of advancement.
Since the museum’s launch in August 2002, the city of Sacheon, once a quiet fishing town, has become a significant tourist site; 600,000 visitors came just last year.
Indeed the museum, run by the Korea Aerospace Industries, has greatly assisted in the rise of aerospace commerce in the city, which already is home to a regional airport hub. Spurred by the museum’s success, the government of South Gyeongsang is now collaborating with the city to organize an Aerospace Expo, which will open later this month. Already, Sacheon is offering various kinds of support and benefits in an effort to lure more aerospace companies.
Back in 1991, Korea Aerospace Industries, which is based in Sacheon and was at that time known as “Samsung Airline,” produced its first replica F-16, the fighter jet used by the U.S. military. Other aerospace companies were already in the area, such AeroSpace Technology of Korea (or ASTK), a producer of aircraft parts for Boeing, and Doowon Heavy Industrial, a producer of missile spare parts and display rockets for museums, but the Sacheon city government didn’t pay the companies much attention.
But when three major aerospace companies in Korea integrated in October 1999 to form the current Korea Aerospace Industries, or KAI, it was big news. Then in April 2003, when the company sold a plane to Indonesia ― the first aircraft export in Korean history ― the aerospace business in the town slowly began to take off.
In response, Sacheon decided to organize a festival to promote the industry. After nearly a year of preparation, the city finally opened the first “Sacheon Aerospace Expo” last October. The provincial government and the city provided the expo’s budget of about 700 million won ($672,000).
The exposition was a success, attracting 210,000 visitors within the first few days. This year, the city decided to make the event even bigger and changed the name to Sacheon Aerospace Expo. The organizers expect about 300,000 visitors.
Noh Young-ju, a staff member at the exposition, said that the goal of the event’s organizers was to bring Korea into the ranks of the world’s top 10 aerospace-technology-producing countries by 2015.
In August, KAI held a ceremonial event to mark the company’s final completion of its trainer jet, the T-50, for the first time. The T-50 is a lightweight fighter trainer that has a top speed of Mach 1.5.
The first Korean jet trainer was the KT-1, produced by KAI in November 2000. Partially dismantled aircraft were then exported to Indonesia in May 2003.
The company then used the engineering skills it learned from the KT-1 to produce F-16 jet fighters, or at least most of them. The company still imports 10 percent of the fighter parts. The Korean F-16s were soon awarded a certification of aircraft transport by the Ministry of Construction and Transportation after flying a combined 10,000 hours without accident. The company then renewed its contract with Indonesia and shipped five more planes to the country.
Aside from KT-1, the company is currently negotiating with the United Arab Emirates for other possible exports. The company is also fine-tuning other multi-purpose aircraft designs, such as the KMH, E-X and P-3c.
In part, Sacheon’s ability to turn itself into a base for the national aerospace industry is due to a series of fortunate coincidences. Of the 83 aerospace parts manufacturers in the country, 51 are located in South Gyeongsang province. The Gyeongsang region’s slew of technical schools and colleges, such as Goseong Aerospace High School and Sacheon Aerospace Technical College, also provide an average of 500 engineers and aerospace professionals a year. The end result is that up to 83 percent of the profits of local aerospace industry comes from Sacheon.
City officials, giddy at their success so far, say they are planning to create a “techno belt” for aerospace parts manufacturers.
High-flying stunts and soaring hulks
From Oct. 26 to 30, Sacheon city will be hosting the “2005 Sacheon Aerospace Expo.” The exposition, which will be held at the Jinsa Industrial Complex and at a training airfield for the Korean airforce, will give the public an opportunity to see the aerospace industry up close.
The expo’s air shows, which will take place twice a day, will include eight of the world’s renowned “air acrobats,” including F-15 training teams from the US Air Force and the Korean military’s own Black Eagles stunt team. There will also be test flights of local aircraft for visitors and airplane model-making for kids.
More than 50 aircraft will be on display, including rare models such as the AN-124, the largest Russian heavy transport aircraft. The craft, which is 69 meters (75 yards) in length, 73 meters in wingspan and 68 meters in height, was developed primarily as a strategic military freighter to carry missile units and main battle tanks. Only two AN-124s are still in existence.
Visitors will also be able to snap photos of themselves with real pilots at the show.
The expo will mainly be arranged as a public festival, unlike those in other countries, where new weapons are introduced and companies sell their products. As a side event, there will be symposia and sky-diving shows.
by Kim Sang-jin