T-6C Chases Trainer Deals As Light Attack AT-6 Awaits U.S. Air Force Rethink
The Hawker Beechcraft T-6C here at the Farnborough International Airshow flew across the Atlantic Ocean to join the company’s static display, demonstrating the single-engine turboprop trainer’s versatility. Its appearance at the show happens against the backdrop of the still unresolved question of whether the U.S. Air Force (USAF) will reverse its contentious, earlier decision to select Embraer’s Super Tucano for its light-air-support requirement in preference to the T-6’s AT-6 sibling.
More than 760 T-6 Texan IIs have been delivered to the U.S. Navy and Air Force and six other countries’ military forces since deliveries began in 2000. The T-6 was originally developed for the USAF and Navy Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) in the early 1990s, competing and winning against six other airplanes, including Cessna’s twin-engine CitationJet and Embraer’s Super Tucano.
“It is a marvelous airplane,” said Derek Hess, vice president of light attack programs for Hawker Beechcraft Defense. “The training capacity that it offers young students in the [U.S.] Air Force far exceeds what I’ve learned on.” As a former military pilot, Hess trained in a Cessna T-37.
The T-6A has been weaponized and tested at the 46th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Added stores included external fuel tanks, HMP-400 .50-caliber gun pods, 500-pound general-purpose bombs, BDU-33 practice bombs and 2.75-inch rockets. It was developed for Greece’s Hellenic Air Force.
Esterline CMC Cockpit 4000
The original T-6A Texan II was replaced by the T-6B, equipped with the Esterline CMC Cockpit 4000 glass-panel avionics system with SparrowHawk head-up display (HUD). The T-6A has glass instruments, but in a nonintegrated setup unlike the Cockpit 4000, which features three integrated five- by seven-inch displays, an upfront control panel, an L-3 standby ADI and the HUD. The T-6C version includes the hardpoints developed for the Hellenic T-6A for mounting of external fuel tanks and stores.
Production of the USAF’s order for the T-6A has been completed, and the Navy’s T-6B deliveries are about halfway complete, according to Hess. “The Mexican air force wants this same ‘dumb’ weapons capability integrated onto the T-6C,” he said. “So there will be an analog stores-management system, which gives them basic weapons capability. They want to procure the aircraft first and then they’ll do a retrofit of their aircraft into a weapons configuration.”
In mid-May, Hawker Beechcraft completed a world tour with the T-6C. The airplane spent two months flying from the company’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, England, Italy, Greece, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and Russia and back to Wichita. The T-6C logged 166 hours, including126 ferry hours and 40 hours flying 43 demonstration sorties. Maintenance during the trip included one landing light replacement, a set of main tires, a 100-hour inspection and five quarts of oil added. Fuel burn for the trip averaged 393 pounds per hour.
An “attack” AT-6 version took flight in 2009, featuring a more powerful 1,600-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68D replacing the T-6 variant’s 1,100-shp PT6A-68. The AT-6 is the airplane that Hawker Beechcraft offered for the USAF’s light-air-support (LAS) competition. The LAS requirement includes 20 airplanes, training devices and support for the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
The USAF had awarded the LAS contract to Sierra Nevada, which fielded Embraer’s Super Tucano for the program. However, in March, the Air Force canceled the contract and said it would issue a new request for proposal (RFP), which it did on May 4; the deadline was June 18. It also said it is targeting source selection for the LAS program in early 2013.
For Hawker Beechcraft, of course, the AT-6 makes the most sense for fulfilling the LAS contract. “It leverages all the investment that went forward,” Hess said, “both on the T-6A, B and C, A-10C and MC-12W programs to give the user community, which in our case is the U.S. Air Force and its partner nations, something familiar to operate.
“What we ended up doing,” he said, “is taking the [Lockheed Martin] A-10C mission computer and put it into the AT-6.” The mission computer is integrated with the Esterline CMC Cockpit 4000 avionics in the AT-6. Add the more powerful PWC engine and a higher maximum takeoff weight of 10,000 pounds, he said, “and we produce a better shaft horsepower-to-weight ratio than [the T-6C], so it’s a little rocket ship, if it’s not loaded up.”
An L-3 Wescam MX-15Di infrared sensor is mounted on the bottom forward fuselage of the AT-6. This is the same sensor used on USAF’s Project Liberty MC-12W King Air 350s, also built by Hawker Beechcraft. “All we’re doing is taking parts off established USAF programs and integrating them,” Hess said. “It leverages the people, the platforms and the programs.”
The advantage of the AT-6 platform, Hess pointed out, is that it can effectively fulfill a variety of missions at relatively low expense. “Training and counterinsurgency and irregular warfare–you get those capabilities by using the aircraft systems in a slightly different way.”
During U.S. Air National Guard operational assessment exercises in 2010, two AT-6s flew 182 sorties, logging 249.4 hours and burning 124,530 pounds of fuel. This is about the same amount of fuel that four to six F-15s would gulp during one combat sortie, according to Hess. An AT-6 flew from Wichita to London, he said, “in four hops in our deployment configuration with four external fuel tanks. Between here [Wichita] and London it took 7,309 pounds [of fuel], which is [about] the amount an F-16 uses in a single sortie.”
No matter what happens to the LAS program, Hawker Beechcraft sees a market for the AT-6. “Take the [Northrop] F-5 program, the Air Force built 1,200 T-38s and sold 2,500 F-5s around the world,” Hess explained. “We believe there is a very large market, and it is for nations that can’t afford F-35s or even F-16s, yet still have a need to conduct counterinsurgency operations.
The LAS aircraft will naturally be used in that role beginning in Afghanistan, but the USAF has also indicated that there are 27 nations with which it would like to have this kind of relationship that would benefit from an airplane like the AT-6. “We’ve made what we believe is prudent investment in demonstrating the technology and the capability to go with that market,” concluded Hess.
Before for this week’s Farnborough show, Matt Thurber took the chance to fly the T-6C trainer. You can read his pilot report at www.ainonline.com/T6-pilot-report.