JD O'Malley (right) is teaching an "old" training aircraft some new -- and lethal -- tricks.
O'Malley is a company pilot for Hawker Beechcraft, the aircraft maker formerly known as Raytheon. He was in Washington last week as part of an extended campaign to introduce military brass, politicians and journalists (like me on the left) to the virtues of the AT-6, an armed and net-centric ISR version of the Hawker Beechcraft T-6B turboprop trainer...
Since the light attack AT-6 doesn't yet exist (no one has ordered one since the model was introduced at Farnborough last summer), O'Malley brought the next best thing to the Leesburg Airport in Virginia last week - a customized T-6B. The "B" is a glass cockpit version of the T-6A trainer the company is making by the hundreds under the US military's JPATS training aircraft contract. T-6Bs will roll off the assembly lines for the US military starting in 2009.
The most imminent need for an armed version of the T-6B, in Hawker Beechcraft's opinion, is to help Iraqis defend themselves so US aviators and support personnel can come home, an effort the company thinks may bear fruit (in the form of government contracts) as early as next year.
It was with the modified T-6B prototype, N3000B, that O'Malley and I, he in the back seat, I in the front seat, dropped bombs and unleashed a barrage of machine gun bullets in the mountains just west of what might be considered the most secure airspace in the world - the Air Defense Identification Zone around Washington DC.
Ok, so we really didn't really wreak havoc and cause heartburn for the security types, we simply simulated the effect using the T-6B's customized computers and head-up display, dropping 250lb laser-guided bombs, shooting Hellfire missiles and hammering insurgent strongholds with .50cal machine guns, the tools of the trade for the AT-6. Hawker Beechcraft plans six hard points below the AT-6's wings for combinations of bombs, missiles, machine guns or external fuel tanks. There's also a seventh hard point under the fuselage, for the EO/IR sensor suite.
The flying part was real enough though, as was evident when O'Malley delivered a bunch of Gs as we pulled out of the dive and climbed out for another pass. The demonstration was all the more fun knowing no one was shooting back at us.