Hawker Beechcraft has demonstrated a more powerful version of its AT-6 turboprop, ahead of a US Air Force competition for a light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft.

The second AT-6 production-representative test vehicle flew on 5 April and is equipped with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68D engine, increasing thrust to 1,600shp (1,190kW) from 1,100shp.

The same aircraft also received a mission avionics upgrade based on the Fairchild A-10 close air support aircraft. The AT-6 can carry a variety of missiles, guns and bombs, plus sensors to gather information, identify targets and guide the weapons.

 AT-6 second - Hawker Beechcraft
© Hawker Beechcraft

Hawker Beechcraft claims the second test vehicle also includes structural improvements, but remains 95% common with the baseline T-6B trainer in service with the USAF and US Navy.

The AT-6 is among several potential bidders for the LAAR contract, a competition for which is expected to start next year. Embraer is preparing to offer its EMB-314 Super Tucano, which is operated by USN special operations.

Boeing has released a concept drawing of the OV-10X Bronco, an updated version of a Vietnam-era combat aircraft, while Alenia Aermacchi wants to offer an armed version of the M-346 Master advanced jet trainer.

The LAAR aircraft is expected to fill a potential niche in the USAF inventory for aircraft optimised for irregular warfare campaigns. The service released a request for information last August, surveying rough performance and pricing data for each of the various concepts.

Chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz has said that the USAF wants a LAAR aircraft that is derived from a model already in the inventory.

The air force plans to operate a small number of the aircraft for itself, and to buy others on behalf of cash-strapped partners in irregular warfare campaigns. Lebanese government officials, for example, have indicated that they expect to receive LAAR aircraft from the US government after 2012.

Separately, the USN has announced that it plans to acquire three used Aero Vodochody L-39Cs on behalf of the Afghan national army air corps. It is not immediately clear how Kabul intends to use the Czech-built jet trainers.

Source: Flight International