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Textron Scorpion Aims For December First Flight

 - November 18, 2013, 1:15 AM

Textron AirLand aims to fly the first prototype of its Scorpion light attack/ISR jet in the first week of December. The aircraft is currently undergoing final checks, and is scheduled to fly following the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. A joint venture between Textron and AirLand Enterprises, the Scorpion has been secretly under construction at Textron subsidiary Cessna’s Wichita plant. The project began in January 2012, but was not made public until September this year.

AirLand Enterprises, a group of engineers and retired defense officials, approached Textron with the Scorpion concept, and the companies entered into a joint venture in October 2011. Textron’s engineering team refined the concept, and design work started in January last year. The joint venture touts the Scorpion as an “affordable” alternative to expensive multi-role fighters for lower-threat and homeland-security missions by U.S. and foreign partner defense and security forces. It contends that the clean-sheet design fills a niche that is not being served by jet trainers and light attack turboprops.

True to Cessna’s expertise, the Scorpion has business jet influences. The jet “is meant to fit into a market space which is essentially a business jet operating envelope,” with the ability to stay on station for five hours, said Edward Hackett, Textron AirLand program director. “A large percentage” of parts come from the Cessna Citation line, including the flap drive mechanism from the Citation XLS and Mustang and aileron drive mechanism from the Citation X. Cessna’s knowledge of the parts’ performance supports its estimate that the Scorpion can be operated for less than $3,000 per hour, a fraction of a fighter’s operating cost.

The aircraft is constructed mostly of composites, with the exception of its landing gear and engine fittings and mounts. It is configured with a tandem cockpit, retractable sensor mounts, canted tails and an unswept 47.4-foot-span wing that can be replaced by another wing as part of the aircraft’s modular design. There is a centerline internal weapons bay with capacity for 3,000 pounds and six wing hard points for external stores, including precision-guided munitions in the sub-500-pound class. The prototype is powered by twin Honeywell TFE731 turbofans producing 8,000 pounds of thrust between them. Among specifications Textron AirLand lists for the aircraft are an mtow of 21,250 pounds, maximum speed of 450 ktas and 45,000-foot service ceiling.

Textron decided to build the prototype at Cessna’s Pawnee facility in Wichita, which is located near McConnell Air Force Base and has access to its runways. Textron is supporting the development through research and development funds; it notified investors about a year ago that it was increasing its R&D budget line “to capture some of the work that was going on [with] the Scorpion aircraft,” according to the company.