Textron Airland is currently developing their Scorpion aircraft as a light weight and low cost attack and surveillance aircraft. Part of its testing program brought the prototype to Centennial Airport south of Denver. Paul Filmer caught up with the jet and the team there. Rob Edgcumbe provides some background to the project.
The Scorpion is an interesting project that is entirely driven by two companies that share a belief that a small, light weight and low cost aircraft can provide a level of capability that will be appealing to many military operators. The project is self funded and does not currently have an announced customer. Airland Enterprises brought the concept to Textron, owners of Cessna and Beech, and the two set up a joint venture to develop the type.
A tandem seat, twin engine aircraft with an unswept wing, the Scorpion was developed in secret by the project team members with a relatively short development cycle compared to most military aircraft programs. While much of the aircraft was custom designed, some elements were taken from existing products in order to reduce cost and complexity. Later versions of the aircraft will have some of these systems replaced with custom designed units. The undercarriage is an example where the gear from a Citation was used. A custom installation will be optimized for the Scorpion and will allow a reconfiguration of the fuselage gear bays.
The aircraft has external pylons as well as an internal bay. With roles to include close air support and surveillance/reconnaissance, it is intended that the aircraft can be reconfigured as needed. The bay can carry a variety of payloads depending on the needs of customers. Weapons configurations can also vary depending on the needs of the roles a customer might intend. While the plane is a two seater, it can be operated by a single crew if required.
The prototype was unveiled to the public in 2013 and test flying got underway later that year. Progress has been generally smooth and the company was sufficiently confident in the type to make a transatlantic trip to the UK to attend the Farnborough International Air Show. This allowed the aircraft to be demonstrated to potential customers from across the world. The USAF is not considered to be a potential customer but the Air National Guard is an organization that Textron Airland feels could make good use of the type. Many other countries are also seen as strong candidates for the type. The goal of keeping the operating costs for the type below $3,000 per hour are important for targeting many smaller air arms.
While test flying continues, a second aircraft is currently being prepared. It will incorporate a number of changes compared to the first prototype. Some of these result from experience in testing including some de-icing changes that were reported as resulting from experience during the trip across the Atlantic. Others are design enhancements that were not included in the initial aircraft to reduce cost and complexity. The undercarriage changes mentioned before will be included and an all moving tailplane will replace the current fixed tailplane and elevator combination. Cockpit displays are also going to be upgraded.
While development testing continues, Textron Airland is looking to continue expanding the exposure the aircraft receives. Another trip across the water is planned for this year to attend the Paris Air Show. With more experience on the prototype and the development of the next airframe well underway, customers will be briefed on the latest developments with the type. They will also be able to find out more on the capabilities that are planned and the pricing for acquisition and operations. This will include whether the company is meeting its target of a $20m price tag with a back sensor fit.
This is not the first time a company has decided to go at risk in developing a military aircraft type. Rarely have they been successful since the backing of a substantial customer is often seen as necessary to secure funding and to provide confidence to export customers. However, with the might of the Textron Corporation behind the project and the budgetary pressures being experienced by militaries around the world, perhaps the Scorpion might turn out to be the right type of aircraft at the right time and price. We shall see.