MIAMI – Korean Air (KE) announced joint research with The Seoul National University and the Korean Air Force to launch missiles and orbital vehicles from a Boeing 747 aircraft.

The venture into the research project to develop an air-launch system follows the termination of the US-South Korean ‘Revised Missile Guidelines’ agreement in May 2021.

The airline has already started analyzing all technological capabilities, operating costs, and how to modify the selected aircraft to be fit for the role of a flying air-launch facility. The selected aircraft will be a KE Boeing 747-400.

According to planespotters.net, the airline has a current fleet of 20 Boeing 747 aircraft (16 747-8 and 4 747-400). The Boeing 747-400 fleet has an average age of 15.8 years, making it a better choice for research and development while the 747-8’s would focus on commercial routes.

Korean Air Boeing 747-400. Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways

Ability to Launch Orbital Vehicles


Currently, The Naro Space Center in Goheung County is the only option for the country to launch satellites. With a flying air-launch 747, however, launching capabilities will improve significantly as there is no dependency on a particular geographical location.

“To attract the fast-growing, worldwide demand for small satellite launches, it is essential to develop capabilities for air launching, which is not affected by weather or geographical conditions,” the airline said in a statement.

“We will use our extensive experience operating aircraft and expertise in the aerospace business, which includes aircraft system integration and assembling Korea’s first space launch vehicle, Naro, to develop an air-launch system that is competitive in the global market.”

The air-launch system will be less affected by weather conditions compared to on-ground launch pads. It will also be more cost-effective as it requires less construction and maintenance costs.

The airline also announced that it could possibly provide the air-launch system to other countries without a launch site and thus generate revenue.


Featured image: Korean Air Boeing 747-400. Photo: Iain Marshall/Airways