Textron AirLand’s Scorpion programme is facing a busy 2015, with design enhancements and customer demonstrations set to dominate its activities amid optimism that a first sale will be announced.
“There are a lot of countries interested, and a lot of demonstrations to come this year,” says Dale Tutt, chief engineer and programme manager. Interest in the Scorpion has grown since its debut flight in December 2013, and in particular since the company brought the twin-engined type to the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough air show in the UK last July.
Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on 14 January, Tutt and Textron AirLand chief test pilot Dan Hinson revealed previously undisclosed details about the programme’s achievements to date, and the changes being incorporated for a production-standard version.
Textron AirLand was formed with the goal of rapidly designing and flying an aircraft capable of meeting tasks ranging from close air support to aerospace control, maritime security and training. With a target acquisition price lower than $20 million, it was also to offer a per-hour operating cost of below $3,000 and be ready to enter production in 2016.
“We set some really audacious goals,” says Tutt, who also describes the project as “an incubator, to learn some lessons for the rest of Textron”. This includes the use of an all-composite, one-piece wing with a span of almost 14.6m (48ft). Where possible, the design team sourced parts such as valves and actuators from products such as Cessna’s Citation business jet, and avionics flight testing was performed using a 208 Caravan.
Achieved within 23 months of project launch, the time needed to reach first flight compares with an average of around five years for a new Cessna product, Tutt says, and with just 60% of the personnel. However, he stresses: “Going fast doesn’t mean taking short cuts.”
Since its debut, the company’s one prototype Scorpion has made 140 flights totalling a combined 275h, says Tutt. The design met its $3,000/h operating cost target in its first year, and demonstrated a 95% availability rate, he says, adding: “We’ve learned a lot from the current airplane.”
The next version of the Scorpion will feature new main landing gear. Tutt describes the current system as having been one of the programme’s biggest constraints: “We had a lot of trouble building it,” he says. An early issue with the gear not fully locking until contact was made with the runway was not permanently resolved until flight 43, the company reveals. The new trailing gear design will also free up an additional 68kg (150lb) in payload capacity for the platform.
“Externally the aircraft is going to look a lot like it does today,” says Tutt, with the fighter retaining the type’s innovative 4.3 x 0.9m (14 x 3ft) internal payload bay.
Other changes will include the integration of a trimmable horizontal stabiliser on the tail that was excluded from the prototype to reduce complexity. “We’ve been working on that since before we flew,” Tutt notes.
Another planned enhancement will be to move from the use of a current four multifunction displays in the rear cockpit to a single large screen, which test pilot Hinson says will support the type’s role in having a mission manager on board.
An icing issue encountered on departing Iceland for the UK last year has been addressed, with a wing and tail anti-icing system enhancement having entered flight testing on 9 January, Hinson says. The inlets for the type’s Honeywell TFE731 engines already had the feature.
With the Scorpion having been flown to a maximum of 455kt (843km/h), 45,000ft and demonstrated an endurance of 4.2h on internal fuel since its debut (above), Hinson adds: “We have completed all of our preliminary performance data. Everything is translating into the next airplane.”
Due to a busy schedule, Tutt says the team is hoping to tailor weapons testing planned to occur this year with the needs of possible buyers.
“Right now we’re actively working towards getting a customer. It’s not a matter of if – it’s when,” says Tutt. “We're positioned to deliver aircraft two years after a contract signature,” he notes, but adds that a first transfer before the end of 2016 could still be possible if an order were to be secured soon.
The company is also looking towards the certification process for the type, which will be performed to Federal Aviation Administration-approved US Air Force standards. “Our target customer is a military customer,” Tutt adds.
To support its sales objective, the Scorpion team is also planning to return to Europe in mid-year in order to exhibit the type at June’s Paris air show, he confirms.