T-6 dons battlegear for new armed roles
With 319 Beechcraft-built T-6 trainers delivered to date and almost 500,000 flight hours to their credit, Raytheon has concluded that the time is ripe to launch the AT-6 joint airborne weapons system derivative. Promoted as a platform for the net-centric battlefield, the AT-6 has been readied for its new mission by the addition of sensors, datalink, cockpit protection and various weapons configurations.
More than 800 T-6s will be built through 2017 and support is guaranteed through 2050, so the ‘attack’ AT-6 derivative is certain to enjoy the same high degree of longevity. In collaboration with CMC Electronics, Raytheon has developed an integrated glass cockpit for the AT-6, its low cost, low risk avionics solution featuring open architecture that will enable the HUD to replicate such fighters as the F-16 or F/A-18. It will also ease the installation of future developments.
It is envisaged that the T-6B as delivered to the U.S. Navy could take over some of the training (including weapon delivery) currently performed on the T-45. In the same way, it is proposed that the AT-6 could take over some homeland security tasks, defending cities against suicide hijackers. Shooting down airliners or even high performance general aviation aircraft would be well within the capability of the new attack aircraft. And, according to Jim Smith, Raytheon vice president of government business, the new model would also be an affordable option for counter insurgency and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in Iraq, and the company has responded to a request for proposal for these roles.
The multirole AT-6 will include Kevlar armor for crew protection, as well as provision to dispense chaff and flare decoys as part of a defensive aids system. The new attack aircraft will retain the two Martin-Baker seats of the T-6 series to allow a rear-seat crewmember to operate some sensor or missile systems, or to function as a forward air controller. However, the rear seat can be quickly removed to make provision for additional fuel or other stores.
Raytheon has developed enlarged nacelle fuel tanks for its Beechcraft King Air 350ER twin turboprop aircraft. The new version will now have full capacity that is more than 33 percent greater than that of the standard 350 model, and it will also have improved aerodynamics.
The aircraft will offer ferry range of up to 2,400 nm or 2,100 nm carrying a normal payload. It is expected to complete certification this year, with the new tanks having been installed on a test model.
According to John Brauneis, Raytheon’s v-p for contracts and special missions, the 350ER is also suitable for operators wanting to tanker fuel for missions. For instance, it could fly 1,000 nm, then land in a place where no fuel is available before returning to base. With an increased max takeoff weight of 16,500 pounds, the ER has close to the same payload as the original 350 but is more flexible operationally.
“You can’t touch this sort of platform without spending three times as much in acquisition and operating costs,” Brandeis said. “Nothing competes.”