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AFA: Textron unveils light attack Scorpion

Sep. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Company officials unveiled the design for the Scorpion, in works since January 2012, during the annual Air Force Association Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md.
Company officials unveiled the design for the Scorpion, in works since January 2012, during the annual Air Force Association Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. (Textron AirLand)
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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — Textron and AirLand today unveiled the Scorpion, a clean-sheet light attack platform that the companies are confident can make inroads in both the international and domestic markets.

The plane is in the “final stages” of integration tests, with a flight expected before the end of the year, Scott Donnelly, chairman and CEO of Textron, told reporters today. He said the aircraft has already run successful tests of the ejector seat and engines.

Company officials unveiled the design, in works since January 2012 at a Wichita, Kan., facility, during the annual Air Force Association Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md.

The Scorpion comes with twin turbofan engines and a tandem cockpit, although the jet is designed to be flown by a single pilot. There are six hard points on the plane that could hold a variety of equipment, from extra fuel to Hellfire missiles.

Potential competitors to the Scorpion, such as the Embraer Super Tucano and Beechcraft AT-6, are turboprop designs notable for their low-cost design. Donnelly, however, expressed confidence that his design would be priced similarly to a turboprop, while providing greater capabilities.

Donnelly expects a per-hour operating cost of around $3,000, significantly less than highly capable aircraft such as the F-16 or F-35.

The backing officials see the ISR capabilities as what really sets the plane apart. The Scorpion can carry 3,000 pounds of ISR equipment, with a modular design to allow customers to select what equipment should be on the plane. It boasts five hours of long-loiter time as well.

While the company has had conversations with potential customers, it was not willing to identify any specific areas of growth. However, both the Middle East and the Pacific have proven fertile grounds for light attack craft in the past.

Given budget cuts around the world, it seems potentially dangerous for a company to create a new plane without a requirement. But Donnelly insists that gives his group an entrance into the worldwide market.

“Our view has always been that we know the US and partner nations are all going to have budgetary challenges, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a mission requirement,” he said. “We’re offering a solution to people who have budgetary challenge and still have mission requirements. This is not a competitor to an F-35. The vast majority of missions don’t need that.”

Domestically, the Scorpion team is also keeping an eye on the Air Force’s T-X trainer replacement program. Donnelly indicated that by swapping the two engines with a single engine and changing the wings on the plane, the fighter would match up ideally with the expected requirements for the T-X program, potentially worth billions of dollars.

That kind of design flexibility will be key for making market headway, said former Air Force Secretary Whit Peters, who consulted for AirLand on the design of the plane.

“For the international market, its’ critical,” Peters said of the flexibility of the plane. Because its can be hard to know what technologies will and will not be exportable, it is important to be able to make a baseline airplane that can be exportable and then modified for customers, Peters said.

He indicated that worldwide fleets of A-37s, as well as the US Air Force’s fleets of A-10s and F-15Cs, could be platforms replaced by the Scorpion. Both those Air Force platforms are potentially on the cutting block due to sequestration.

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