As deliveries of T-6A trainers to the US military cease in 2016, Beechcraft is seeking to play a role in a US Air Force programme to replace more than 500 Northrop T-38C Talons in service today.

Although calling for a highly-manoeuvrable, jet-powered trainer, the USAF's long-delayed T-X acquisition programme is a key element in the growth strategy for the company even after emerging from bankruptcy protection last February without its business jet division.

“Everybody is watching T-X,” says Russ Bartlett, president of Beechcraft Defense. “Programmes of that size are relatively few and far between. We’ve got a lot to offer. We’re talking with lots of different folks to see how we might fit.”

Beechcraft’s role in the programme would depend upon the needs of a partner, Bartlett says. Whether the USAF acquisition strategy calls for a new or an existing aircraft may be a key factor.

“It depends on what does the [request for proposal’s] requirements say,” Bartlett adds. “Does it have to be an off-the-shelf airplane, or is there opportunities to do something from scratch?”

Asked if Beechcraft might build a clean-sheet design offered by another company, Bartlett said: “Maybe so.”

The USAF strategy for the T-X is still evolving. The service had released proposed requirements for an off-the-shelf aircraft, with the Korean Aerospace/Lockheed Martin T-50, AleniaAermacchi T-100 derivative of the M346 and the BAE Systems Hawk T2 each expressing interest.

Boeing, however, publicly pushed the USAF to consider a clean-sheet design, and unveiled a V-tailed concept aircraft.

Beechcraft understands that the USAF is now “refreshing” the analysis of alternatives for T-X.

“We’ll start to refine those requirements probably over the next 18 months,” Bartlett says.

Beechcraft currently supplies the Hawker 400-based T-1A Jayhawk to the USAF as a lead-in trainer for tanker and transport crews, and the T-6A to the USAF and Navy as a primary trainer for all pilots.

The US military is negotiating the 20th and final lot of production for T-6As right now, and deliveries will wind up in 2016, Bartlett says.

“We’re certainly looking at what’s the next big opportunity out there to keep the defence company employed for the next 20 years,” he says.

The T-X programme also could drive requirements to upgrade the T-6A fleet's avionics, Bartlett says.

Beechcraft is already in discussions with avionics suppliers about retrofitting an F-35-style large area display on the T-6A, he says. The upgrade would allow pilots to gain experience with such a display on the primary trainer, as the T-X is also expected to duplicate the display format of the Lockheed Martin stealth fighter.