Industrial powerhouse Textron (think Bell Helicopter, Cessna, and Textron Systems) and small startup AirLand Enterprises, LLC (website under construction) have joined forces to create the Scorpion light tactical aircraft. The joint venture, Textron AirLand, LLC, has boldly or foolishly designed the clean-sheet Scorpion without a requirement, in the midst of budget constraints both domestically and internationally. The Scorpion, which was unveiled on Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md., is designed to fulfill a broad range of missions. These broad mission capabilities, along with the aircraft’s design and performance, place the Scorpion in a niche between high-performance aircraft like the F-16 and low-cost, lightweight aircraft like the Beechcraft AT-6 and Embraer Super Tucano.
“We began development of the Scorpion in January 2012 with the objective to design, build and fly the world’s most affordable tactical jet aircraft capable of performing lower-threat battlefield and homeland security missions.”
The Scorpion, with a first flight scheduled before the end of the year, has been rapidly developed. “We began development of the Scorpion in January 2012 with the objective to design, build and fly the world’s most affordable tactical jet aircraft capable of performing lower-threat battlefield and homeland security missions,” said Textron Chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly.
Mission capabilities that the Scorpion hopes to fulfill include border security, maritime security, counter narcotics, aerospace control alert, humanitarian assistance/disaster response, and irregular warfare support. The Air National Guard currently carries many of those missions out with more expensive and more capable F-15s and F-16s. Up to five hours of loiter time, the company says, will help give the Scorpion the ability to capably perform these missions. Besides fulfilling those missions, the Scorpion could possibly compete in the U.S. Air Force’s long-stalled T-X trainer replacement program.
The Scorpion is touted as being able to carry up to 3,000 pounds of ISR equipment in its internal payload bay.
Powered by twin Honeywell TF731 turbofan engines, the composite airframe Scorpion tentatively lists an attractive set of capabilities. Even though it features a tandem cockpit, the Scorpion is designed to be flown by a single pilot. Each cockpit has modern, multifunction color displays that allow the pilot to see information related to flight, aircraft performance, navigation, and weapons. The Scorpion is touted as being able to carry up to 3,000 pounds of ISR equipment in its internal payload bay, unique among aircraft of this class, which would enable it to fulfill a valuable role as an intelligence gathering and communications relay platform. Likewise, that 3,000 pounds could comprise a mix of precision or unguided munitions. The internal payload bay includes modular partitioning that is built to accommodate a mix of sensors, fuel, and communication modules, depending on the mission. Six hard points on the Scorpion make it capable of carrying additional fuel or AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, the manufacturer claims.
No unit price has been released, but a per-hour operating cost of $3,000 has, significantly cheaper than most current fast jet aircraft. “We relied on commercial best practices to develop a tactical jet platform with flexibility and capabilities found only in far more costly aircraft,” said Donnelly. The cheaper cost is not achieved by skimping on capabilities, according to Textron Airland. The modular mission architecture used on the Scorpion is envisioned as reducing the costs associated with the integration of new subsystems and updates, allowing for additional sensors and weapons to be integrated as well as flexibility and scalability when it comes to additional hardware applications.
“We believe Scorpion will fill a critical price and performance gap in the tactical military aircraft market.”
The entrance of the Scorpion into a crowded and competitive light aircraft market doesn’t seem to faze the partners of Textron AirLand. Former Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters, who serves as an investor and advisor to AirLand Enterprises, remarked that, “In an impressively short time, the joint venture has designed and built a capable and mission-ready aircraft with no up-front government funding. We believe Scorpion will fill a critical price and performance gap in the tactical military aircraft market.”
Textron AirLand Scorpion
Length: 43 feet 6 inches
Wingspan: 47 feet 4 inches
Height: 14 feet
Standard empty weight: 11,800 pounds
Max takeoff weight: 21,250 pounds
Max internal fuel load: 6,000 pounds
Max internal payload bay: 3,000 pounds
Thrust: 8,000 pounds
Max speed: 450 KTAS
Service ceiling: 45,000 feet
Ferry range: 2,400 nautical miles