The Philippines’ first lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) jet successfully completed its first flight in South Korea, aircraft maker Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) announced Wednesday.

The “FA-50PH” made its maiden flight on June 19, after the Philippines signed a contract to buy 12 units in March 2014, KAI said in its Facebook page.

“We will our best to deliver initial two aircraft by the end of this year,” the company said.

Fernando Manalo, defense undersecretary for modernization, said KAI may deliver two of the jets by the third quarter of 2015.

“It will be possible for the FA-50s to feature in the Armed Forces’ 80th anniversary,” he said in an interview during the military’s 79th anniversary last December.

Colonel Enrico Canaya, Air Force spokesman, called the first jet’s maiden flight a “positive development.”

“It’s a good sign that we are about to become a more modern PAF soon,” Canaya said in a text message to reporters.

The government signed a contract to buy 12 brand-new FA-50s for P18.9 billion in March 2014, amid China’s buildup in the West Philipppine Sea (South China Sea).

Three Air Force pilots are presently in South Korea to train in operating the FA-50s.

The pilots were chosen for the jet project after registering more than a thousand hours flying Marchetti S-211 planes, Colonel Miguel Ernesto Okol, director for operations of the Air Force’s Air Defense Wing, told reporters in December.

The Philippines’ air defense was reduced to the S-211s when the country retired its last seven F5 fighter jets in 2005, after the latter had served for 40 years.

The S-211s were originally designed as trainers and secondary attack planes, but were refitted with avionics equipment and machine guns in recent years to take on air defense.

KAI’s FA-50 jets rake the sky with speeds of up to 1.5 times the speed of sound, compared to the S-211s that fly at a maximum 667 kilometers per hour.

It can be fitted with missiles like the AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air and heat-seeking missile, aside from light automatic cannons.

The FA-50 will act as the country’s interim fighter until the Philippines gets enough experience of operating fast jets and eventually acquire “multi-role fighters.” (John Roson)

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