Low-cost Scorpion fighter starts flight tests

Washington DC
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

First flight on 12 December of the Textron AirLand Scorpion launches an at least two-year certification programme and opens opportunities for closing a deal with a launch customer.

“It’s a great deal for the whole team,” says Textron AirLand president Bill Anderson. “We’ve been working hard for the past 23 months.”

The joint venture between Textron and the start-up AirLand has already scheduled a meeting with a foreign customer, who was waiting for first flight to begin sales discussions, Anderson says.

Anderson is also in discussions with at least one more potential foreign buyer, as well as both active and reserve components of the US military.

The company launched the unsolicited demonstrator to offer militaries a low-cost alternative to modern combat jets. Acquisition price of the Scorpion should be “well south” of $20 million, Anderson says. Direct operating costs are targeted at $3,000 per hour, compared to $12,000 per hour for the Fairchild Republic A-10, he says.

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Textron AirLand

The first flight opens an at least two-year certification campaign. Pilot Dan Hinson completed the 1.4h flight from McConnell AFB, Kansas, never retracting the landing gear. Cruise speeds range between 120-200kt (222-370km/h) at altitudes between 10,000-15,000ft (3,050-4,570m).

In the absence of a customer order, Textron AirLand is keeping the certification programme flexible. The data packages are being prepared for a US Federal Aviation Administration certification, but will do nothing to exclude military airworthiness if a customer requires it.

Powered by two Honeywell TFE731 turbofan engines, the Scorpion is designed to cruise at 450kt with wing-mounted stores and an internal payload up to 1,360kg (3,000lb).

The company hopes to complete up to 500 flight test hours over the next 12 months. The flights are aimed at clearing the basic speed and altitude envelope, culminating in a mission demonstration involving both sensor and weapons tests by the end of the year, says Scorpion chief engineer Dale Tutt.

Although flight tests may reveal design change requirements, Textron AirLand has designed the product to be off-the-shelf. “We’re 99% sure the outer mould line [today] is the outer mould line we’re going to keep,” Anderson says.

The Scorpion, however, includes some modular design features. Textron AirLand, for example, could swap the two-seat front section for a one-seater or an unmanned configuration, Anderson says.

Textron subsidiary Cessna constructed the all-composite Scorpion airframe using a low-cost technique, but it is ready to enter full-rate production, Tutt says.

“That’s been something Cessna has been developing, you know, for a couple years,” Tutt says. “We feel like we could go right into production.”

Textron AirLand started designing the Scorpion less than two years ago. The structure was built with composite materials using a new, low-cost manufacturing technique developed by Cessna.