Textron AirLand’s new Scorpion tactical jet is making its international debut here in the UK. The clean-sheet design attracted curious onlookers last week at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in Fairford, UK, including among them Gen. Mark Welsh, U.S. Air Force chief of staff. This week, the jet can be seen on static display at the Farnborough International Airshow through Thursday.
Crossing the Atlantic was a precocious leap forward for the twinjet, which first took wing on December 12 from McConnell Air Force Base outside of Wichita, Kansas. For its latest milestone, the Scorpion left Wichita on July 1 and landed at RAF Fairford on July 5 via Canada, Greenland, Iceland and a first UK landing in Edinburgh, Scotland, covering some 4,700 nm.
“We had a short delay due to (weather) minimums but got here when we wanted to get here,” Bill Anderson, Textron AirLand president, told AIN during RIAT. “We’re really excited to get in two of the premier international airshows in the world. Pictures don’t do it justice; you’ve got to see the airplane in person.”
Textron AirLand has made good use of the Scorpion’s time in England. On July 8, the jet participated in sorties with a British Royal Air Force pilot on board from the Empire Test Pilots’ School at Boscombe Down.
The Scorpion is a joint venture of Textron (Outdoor Exhibit L2) and AirLand Enterprises, built by Textron’s Cessna Aircraft subsidiary in Wichita and announced at the Air & Space Conference outside of Washington, D.C., in September 2013. Textron AirLand promotes it as an “affordable” intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform capable of performing “lower-threat” battlefield and homeland security missions. The Swiss air force fighter replacement program is one of the company’s targets, according to media reports.
The jet has canted tails and an unswept wing, and 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, an internal weapons bay capable of 3,000 pounds and six wing-mounted hard points for external stores. The jet is powered by twin turbofans generating 8,000 pounds of thrust. Among specifications Textron AirLand lists are a max takeoff weight (mtow) of 21,250 pounds, maximum speed of 450 ktas and a 45,000-foot serviceceiling.
The prototype is fitted with Honeywell TFE731 turbofans, but the joint venture designed the Scorpion to accommodate different engine choices. It aims to deliver a production jet with the chosen engine within 18 months of a customer commitment, Anderson said. Genesys Aerosystems of Mineral Wells, Texas–the combination of S-Tec and Chelton Flight Systems–supplies the avionics displays. Textron AirLand planned to integrate the Thales Visionix helmet-mounted cueing system, a full-color monocle display that fits over a pilot’s right eye.
While the U.S. Department Defense has not stated a requirement for a light strike jet, Anderson said his company has answered the Pentagon’s call to industry to invest in developing new military capabilities. Textron AirLand contends the Scorpion fills a niche that is not served by jet trainers or light attack turboprops and is well matched to U.S. Air National Guard and foreign military missions. Anderson said the acquisition cost of the twinjet will be “below $20 million” and cost to operate $3,000 per hour.
“At Textron, we have invested tens of millions of dollars to bring a relevant capability forward to the international market and the U.S. Department of Defense,” he said. “We answered their challenge; we stepped up. We designed a weapons system that we think fits a very credible need in the U.S. inventory.”
With engineering test pilot Dan Hinson and copilot David Sitz manning its tandem cockpit, the jet made its maiden flight two months after its surprise unveiling at the Air & Space Conference, an event the Air Force Association sponsors. As of mid-June, the Scorpion had logged 46 flights and 85.6 total flight hours, “but who’s counting?” Anderson quipped. “Our advertised top speed was 450 ktas. Dan has already beat that and hit 455 with a lot of throttle and power left over.” Textron AirLand plans to fly the prototype 300 to 400 hours this year.
Hinson and test pilot Andy Vaughan made the trip to the UK, using Blue Spruce routes to Scotland. Cessna’s N680CS registered prototype, used in the Citation Sovereign+ development, accompanied the flight as a chase plane.
The chase plane served mainly for logistics, carrying four maintainers and luggage with it, Hinson said. “It’s obviously a pretty high priority for us to be at RIAT and Farnborough, and we wouldn’t want to have failed to provision for everything,” he explained. “It simplified logistics to bring your posse with you.”
Upon its return to the U.S., the Scorpion will participate in Vigilant Guard 2014, an emergency preparedness exercise in early August, sponsored by the U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau and hosted by the state of Kansas. “Just eight months after first flight, and we’re already in an exercise,” said Anderson.