The Karakorum-8 (K-8) is a single-engine, advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft designed and manufactured jointly by Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation (HAIC) of China and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) to replace the ageing Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainers in service with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
A Chinese version of K-8, the JiaoLian-8 (JL-8), is deployed in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) to replace its obsolete JJ-5 jet trainers. The K-8 was unveiled to the Pakistani public in April 2010. About 500 K-8s have been built since 1993.
K-8 Karakorum jet trainer variants
The K-8 has seven variants, including the K-8E, K-8P, K-8V, JL-8, L-11, K-8W and K-8VB.
The K-8E is an upgraded version, featuring modified airframe and avionics, built for the Egyptian Air Force (EAF). The K-8P is a Pakistani variant upgraded with a new glass cockpit.
The K-8V is an integrated flight-test simulation aircraft (IFTSA) principally used to examine designs before prototypes are built and tested.
The JL-8 is a Chinese version powered by the Ivchenko AI-25 TLK turbofan and an indigenous avionics suite.
The L-11 is an improved version of JL-8, powered by the WS-11 turbofan engine. The K-8W is an advance version of the K-8 that features a meliorated cockpit and head-up display. The K-8VB is an export version delivered to the Bolivian Air Force.
Orders and deliveries
Orders of K-8 include Egypt (118), Ghana (four), Myanmar (62), Namibia (12), Pakistan (55), China (200), Sri Lanka (six), Sudan (12), Tanzania (six), Zambia (eight) and Zimbabwe (11).
Venezuela ordered 18 K-8 aircraft in 2008. The first six were delivered in March 2010 and the remaining 12 in August 2010. Venezuela ordered 18 additional K-8s worth $82m in June 2010 to bring the total orders to 36.
Bolivia ordered six K-8P aircraft worth $58m in 2009 for anti-drug operations.
In June 2018, Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China to buy an additional batch of K-8W jet trainers. The government-to-government MoU was signed between Bangladesh Air Force and China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC).
The number of aircraft on order and the financial details were not disclosed but the airforce had previously announced its plans to purchase additional 23 K-8 aircraft that year.
In May 2020, the National Air Force of Angola (FANA) announced the receipt of undisclosed number of Hongdu K-8 (Karakorum-8) trainer/light attack aircraft from China.
It was speculated that FANA received six K-8W Karakorums and another six were delivered later that year.
K-8 Karakorum accidents
In September 2018, a K-8 belonging to the Sudanese military crashed near the city of Omdurman, killing the two pilots on board. The aircraft was on a training mission and was crashed due to a sudden technical failure.
Another incident was reported in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where a K-8 training plane of Bolivian Air Force got crashed in a residential area in Sacaba, Cochabamba in March 2021. The two pilots managed to safely eject.
Design of K-8 jet
The K-8 was designed to execute pilot training as well as light attack missions in all weather conditions. Its airframe is constructed with aluminium alloys. The aircraft was designed to incorporate a fly-by-wire (FBW) system, elevator, rudder and aileron control system.
Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China unveiled a decision in 1986 to jointly build the K-8 with Pakistan providing 25% funding for the project. Development of the K-8 started in 1987 with initial plan to deploy American technologies including Garrett turbofan engine and Collins avionics, but was cancelled in 1989 due to US political restrictions on China.
Production of four K-8 prototypes (001, 002, 003 and 004) began in January 1989. The K-8-001 took its maiden flight in November 1990, with the K-8-003 following in October 1991. The second and fourth prototypes are used for static and fatigue testing. The flight test programme was completed in 1993. The aircraft entered into service in September 1994.
A total of 15 K-8s were produced between 1992 and 1996. Six were delivered to the PAF in 1994 after which Pakistan decided to procure 75 K-8 aircraft. The first six JL-8s were handed over to the PLAAF in 1998.
The K-8 features a full-glass cockpit enclosed with a plastic bubble-shaped canopy to accommodate two crew members including a student pilot or instructor or an official pilot and weapons system officer. A multi-functional display (MFD) is fitted at the front and rear. The tandem seating configuration provides all-round clear visibility.
An environmental control system (ECS) offers air-conditioning and pressurisation. The emergency cockpit-escape system comprises two Martin-Baker MK-10L rocket-aided ejection seats.
The avionics suite installed in the K-8 includes Rockwell Collins EFIS-86, Type 265 radio altimeter, Bendix/King KNR 634A voice-over recorder, UHF radios, automatic direction finder, rate of climb indicator, barometric altimeter, attitude and heading reference system, air data computer, WL-7 radio compass, KTU-709 tactical air-navigation system and marker beacon receiver.
Armaments on board K-8 Karakorum
The K-8 is armed with a 23mm cannon pod. The aircraft has five hardpoints of which four are located under wing and one beneath the centreline fuselage section. It can carry 1,000kg of payload. The aircraft is equipped with PL-5 and PL-7 air-to-air missiles (AAM), unguided bomb, BL755 cluster bombs weighing 200-250kg, 57mm unguided rocket pods and two fuel drop-tanks.
The K-8 is powered by a single Garrett TFE731-2A-2A turbofan engine designed and built by Honeywell Aerospace. The engine generates 16.01kN of thrust. It features a single-stage high-pressure turbine, a three-stage low-pressure turbine, annular combustors, digital electronic engine control (DEEC) and a single centrifugal high-pressure compressor stage.
The length and diameter of the engine are 1.27m and 1.0m respectively. The dry weight is 333kg.
The tricycle type landing gear features anti-skid units and oleo-pneumatic shock-absorbers. The nose wheel is used for steering the aircraft while the main gear units retract inwards in the fuselage upon take-off.
The length and width of the main gear tyres are 0.56m and 0.16m respectively.
K-8 Karakorum’s performance
The K-8 can climb at a rate of 30m/s. The maximum speed is 800km/h. The range and service ceiling of the aircraft are 2,140km and 13,600m respectively. The maximum endurance is four hours 25 minutes.
The aircraft can operate under ambient temperatures between -40°C and 52°C both on the ground and in the air.