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AT-6 Texan II Armed Aircraft Showing Progress on Several Fronts

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Hawker Beechcraft believes its AT-6 Texan II light attack aircraft is a potential solution for U.S. and allied airmen in the kinds of conflicts taking place today.

At the end of March, the AT-6 (formerly called the AT-6C, and before that the AT-6B) will take its next step as part of continuing progress on several fronts: the Air Force will certify the aircraft to carry precision-guided ordnance in a demonstration at the test range at Gila Bend, Ariz.

The ordnance demonstration will be part of “spiral two,” the second,$ 8.4 million component of a $15.4 million evaluation led by the Air National Guard (ANG) and funded by the Kansas delegation in Congress. Beechcraft manufactures the T-6 series of aircraft in Wichita.

In a Feb. 23 telephone interview, Derek “Turk” Hess, director of Light Attack, who is also a test pilot, said: “We’re going to show the capability of the aircraft to employ laser- and GPS-guidance-aided munitions, using an onboard mission system from the A-10C Thunderbolt II, F-16/A-10 combination HOTAS [hands on throttle and stick], a fully night vision-capable cockpit, and the Scorpion helmet mounted cueing system.”

Lockheed Martin is teamed with Beechcraft in the effort. The continuing ANG demonstration of combat capabilities is being conducted separately and apart from two pending Air Force programs – light attack/armed reconnaissance (LAAR), in which the U.S. Air Force will acquire 15 airframes for stateside training of allied pilots; and light air support (LAS) for 20 aircraft for Afghanistan. Beechcraft submitted a response to a USAF request for proposals (RFP) encompassing both LAAR and LAS in December of last year. A contract award that will cover both LAAR and LAS is expected in June or July.

A one-time plan by the Air Force to acquire fully 100 LAAR aircraft for operations by U.S. personnel is no longer on the table.

TRANS-ATLANTIC MISSION

Hess and Jim Maslowski, president of U.S. and International Government Business for Beechcraft, said the company received rave reviews when it took the first of two AT-6 aircraft, known as AT-1, to last year’s trade exhibit in Farnborough, England. “We ferried it over using the same route they followed in World War II,” said Hess. “We went to Goose Bay, Labrador, and from there to Narsarsuaq, Greenland, to Keflavik, Iceland, and into Great Britain. We got a tremendous reception from visitors to Farnborough.” After Farnborough, Beechcraft modified the first aircraft by installing the same model of engine – the more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A-68D  – that is installed on the second AT-6 prototype, known as AT-2.

An AT-6 evaluation aircraft dirt strip

An AT-6 evaluation aircraft shows its ability to operate out of austere locations. Photo courtesy of Hawker Beechcraft

Hess described an earlier demonstration conducted at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in October of last year. “We went to D-M and put thirty-nine Air Force, Air National Guard and AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] pilots into the two aircraft. We did voice and digitally operated close air support, ground support, FAC-A [forward air control] voice and digital, CSAR support [combat search and rescue], and vehicle interdiction. We also did an air sovereignty alert mission [ASA] intercepting slow movers in southern Arizona relying on tracks from ground radars being fed to our Link-16 feed.”

Hess added: “We used two aircraft and two maintenance personnel. We had no spare aircraft. We scheduled 82 sorties and flew 82 sorties for 116 hours and we burned 58,000 pounds of fuel – the amount of gas used in a takeoff by a two-ship of F-15E Strike Eagles.” Hess acknowledged that, “We had to add five and a half quarts of oil and because we had 39 new guys flying it we had to add a new set of tires.”

Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr., combatant commander of United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM), and commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) requested a further demonstration of the AT-6 in the ASA mission, Hess said. Beechcraft took the AT-6 to the Washington, D.C. area, put a qualified F-16 Fighting Falcon alert pilot in the front seat, and flew simulated missions against “slow mover aircraft in the national capital region,” Hess said.

Beechcraft also demonstrated the AT-6 in connection with the LAS program at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., last December. Said Hess: “We landed on a dirt and gravel strip at Truth or Consequences, N.M. The aircraft continues to show its potential to operate in an austere environment.”

The planemaker has delivered about 660 aircraft in the T-6 series, including most of those in a projected U.S. Air Force/Navy purchase of 783 T-6A/B trainers. The deliveries include 26 T-6A trainers for NATO flight training in Canada, 45 aircraft for Greece (25 T-6As and 20 armed AT-6As); 20 T-6As for Israel and 15 for Iraq, and 24 T-6Cs for Morocco. The armed Greek aircraft, which have the lower-powered engine of all A models, participated in a real-world defense effort during the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The ongoing ANG capabilities demonstration of the armed AT-6 included participation in a Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment in April 2010 and the remainder of the “spiral one” operational assessment in November 2011.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...