Textron AirLand Scorpion
|Textron AirLand Scorpion demonstration flight at the 2014 Royal International Air Tattoo|
|Role||Military attack and reconnaissance aircraft|
|National origin||United States|
|Manufacturer||Textron AirLand, LLC|
|First flight||12 December 2013|
less than US$20 million (forecast, December 2013)
The Textron AirLand Scorpion is a proposed American light attack and Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) jet aircraft. The aircraft is being developed by Textron AirLand, LLC, a joint venture between Textron and AirLand Enterprises, LLC.
Airland Enterprises LLC, Textron's partner in the project, is described by Textron spokesman David Sylvestre as "a group of outside investors who originally came to Textron with the concept of a lower cost tactical jet."
In operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force primarily used A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft for patrols and close air support. While they successfully performed these missions, they operated in completely uncontested airspace. They were designed during the Cold War to perform high-speed, high-G maneuvers. These combat strengths proved to be a financial hindrance, as just the F-16 cost $24,899 per flight hour to operate when it was only needed to drop ordnance and provide armed overwatch.
In October 2011, Airland Enterprises approached Textron with the concept of building the "world’s most affordable tactical jet aircraft." The two companies created a joint venture called Textron AirLand and development of an aircraft began in January 2012. Neither Textron nor its subsidiaries had much experience designing fixed-wing combat aircraft. Textron sees a market for the type: while modern military aircraft grow more expensive, defense budgets are declining. Named Scorpion, the first concept had a single engine. In early 2012, engineers reviewed over 12 design configurations that would meet their goals and shortlisted four designs; the team eventually settled on the tandem-seat, twin-engine configuration.
The aircraft was kept secret, being identified by the codename SCV12-1, or simply "the project." At its peak, the production team was 200 people, which eventually decreased to 170, including 120 engineers. The outside contours were made in May 2012, with wing production starting in August. In an unconventional step, wind tunnel tests were performed the next month, taking place after wing parts were already being made. In a traditional aircraft development program, the Department of Defense or a military service would issue detailed requirements, potentially hundreds of pages long. Instead, Textron AirLand did market and capability analysis to determine what domestic and foreign forces required but didn't have.
The design team made up of personnel from Textron, Cessna, and Bell Helicopter was assembled in one building with everyone focused on the task, enabling decisions to be made in hours instead of days. To not alert any potential competitors, development was kept secret through the signing of non-disclosure agreements, obtaining parts from local suppliers, and the natural close-knit, "small town" nature of Wichita.
The company commercially developed a military product through reusing technology from the Cessna inventory or using other existing and readily-available components and hardware. The Scorpion was unveiled on 16 September 2013. If a customer can be found, production could begin in 2015. Deliveries can begin 15–18 months after an order is received.
In late November, Textron spokesman David Sylvestre confirmed that while Cessna had been involved in building the prototype Scorpion, the company may not build any production models. Sylvestre stated, "depending on demand and manufacturing capacity needs, the final site of Scorpion manufacturing beyond the initial low rate production (2015) is yet to be decided. It may be built 'at' Cessna, but by the joint venture called Textron AirLand...which is a legal entity of Textron Inc. and AirLand Enterprises LLC. Cessna itself is not formally a co-owner of the joint venture at this time."
The aircraft is intended to handle mission profiles typically performed by the U.S. Air National Guard, including domestic interdiction, quick-reaction natural disaster support, air sovereignty patrols, and low-threat battlefield missions. The manufacturer claims the aircraft to be low-cost and operate for about US$3,000 per hour. Though the Air Force has not suggested a need for the type, Textron AirLand believes it can make sales without a requirement or lengthy competition. The Scorpion will be offered for export regardless of USAF adoption, although domestic consumption should boost foreign sales. Nations in the Middle East and Pacific region are expected to show interest. The light attack and reconnaissance roles are typically filled by turboprop airplanes and UAVs, often at lower cost. The concept for U.S. military adoption revolves around the high cost of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II; while it is built for high-threat missions, a requirement could emerge for the low-cost Scorpion to handle low-threat missions. It could reopen the historically small market for tactical aircraft; a projected 60 nations may require tactical aircraft but cannot afford high-end types. Nations operating turboprop aircraft may view Scorpion as a cost-effective jet replacement, and current F-16 operators may decide they require a less capable aircraft.
Analysts believe that the Scorpion will be difficult to sell to the Air Force, who have shown no interest in such an aircraft. Budget cuts make a new program unattractive, and its missions of irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counter narcotics, and air defense operations are effectively filled by remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). The target market is the U.S. Air National Guard and foreign nations that cannot afford the F-35, but want an aircraft to perform ISR and light attack missions better than turboprop planes. It was speculated that Textron AirLand already had specific foreign customers in mind. Buying and sustaining the Scorpion would cost less than A-10 or F-16 upgrades. The A-10 has withstood several retirement attempts and has been recently modernized. The U.S. Air Force is considering retiring its MC-12W Liberty fleet. For air patrol, the Scorpion requires radar and the capability of supersonic flight, similar to the 1980s-era Northrop F-20 Tigershark, which unsuccessfully competed with the F-16. The T-X Trainer program calls for an aircraft of the Scorpion's class; Textron Airland has said the jet could be modified to meet the program's requirements, requiring a redesign with more powerful engines and wing sweep changes. Previous decades saw a market for light fixed-wing attack jets, but in the 1980s the market dried up as richer countries opted for more capable aircraft and poorer countries pursued turboprops and attack helicopters. It is uncertain if the Scorpion will be cheaper or outperform turboprops or RPAs in terms of range, endurance, low-altitude performance, and sensors.
Air National Guard units have been pressured by active Air Force officials to replace aging, expensive to operate F-16s and A-10s, and have endorsed a transition to unmanned aircraft. Air National Guard leaders feel losing manned aircraft to remotely piloted types would leave them ill-equipped for domestic emergencies, such as natural disasters and homeland security crises. While potentially politically motivated, some state governments have voiced apprehension of drones, fearing regulatory restrictions that could cripple a drone's ability to respond during domestic disasters. Textron AirLand markets the Scorpion as a low-cost manned aircraft, costing one-third to one-fourth as much to operate as a traditional fighter, that fits the Guard's mission. Guard officials are hopeful that they can "open up the dialogue on capabilities such as this" with Air Force leaders. The company insists it is not trying to degrade the advantages of unmanned aircraft, but points out that legal barriers and safety issues associated with drones make it difficult to deploy them within national airspace.
The Scorpion demonstrator is a tandem-seat twin engine jet aircraft with an all-composite fuselage designed for light attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Production costs have been kept to a minimum by using components developed for Cessna business jet platforms, common technology and manufacturing resources. The flap drive mechanism is from the Cessna Citation XLS and Cessna Citation Mustang, while the aileron drive mechanism is from the Citation X. Textron Airland refers to the Scorpion as an ISR/strike aircraft rather than a light strike plane. It is meant to handle "non-traditional ISR" flights that U.S. fighters had done in Iraq and Afghanistan. A-10 and F-16 aircraft that flew in combat rarely were shot at and did not employ weapons on most flights. Resulting costs were in the range of tens of thousands of dollars an hour and used up the service life of high-end assets. The Scorpion is designed to cheaply perform armed reconnaissance using sensors to cruise above 15,000 ft, higher than most ground fire can reach, and is still rugged enough to sustain minimal damage.
The Scorpion is designed to be affordable, costing US$3,000 per flight hour, with a unit cost expected to be below US$20 million. Although it is a two-seat aircraft, it can be flown by a single pilot. Textron AirLand selected Cobham plc to design the cockpit, which will feature modern flat-panel displays. The aircraft will not have fly-by-wire to keep costs down and simplify the design. The demonstrator, as well as production versions, are powered by two Honeywell TFE731 turbofans producing 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) of thrust. Endurance is optimized for 5 hours. Except for the landing gear and engine fittings and mounts, the airframe is all-composite with an anticipated service life of 20,000 hours. The Scorpion is to have a 3,000 lb (1,400 kg) payload of precision and non-precision munitions or intelligence-collecting equipment in a simplified and reconfigurable internal bay. The 14.4 m (47 ft) wings are largely unswept and have six hardpoints. The aircraft's modular design allows for the wings to be removed and replaced by different design wings. The internal payload bay has a payload capacity of 3,000 lb (1,400 kg). The external hardpoints have a payload capacity of 6,200 lb (2,800 kg).
Kaman Composites, a subsidiary of Kaman Aerosystems, provided a number of components for the Scorpion prototype, including the wing assembly, vertical and horizontal stabilizers, wing fuel access panels, main landing gear doors, and several closeout panels.
On 23 August 2014, Textron Airland confirmed that the Scorpion will be entered in the U.S. Air Force's T-X trainer program competition. Previously, the company had hinted that the Scorpion could fill the role but never formally confirmed it was entering. Only small modifications will be made to the design, including shortening the wings to less than 47 ft (14.3 m) and making them more aerodynamic, as well as increasing the thrust of the engine at the expense of fuel efficiency for greater maneuverability; the twin-engine, twin-tail design will be retained. The trainer variant could also help secure international orders. The Scorpion's per hour flight cost is relatively close to the $2,200 per hour cost of the T-6 Texan propeller trainer and international markets have a history of using one aircraft type to perform both training and light attack missions,
The Scorpion demonstrator completed pre-flight taxi trials on 25 November 2013 in preparation for the aircraft's first flight. The Scorpion first flew on 12 December 2013 for 1.4 hours. The flight occurred 23 months after the aircraft's conception, and the flight certification program will last two years. Within the next 12 months, Textron Airland hopes to complete 500 flight hours and verify basic performance features. A demonstration involving sensors and weapons is expected by the end of 2014. Additional flights were conducted in January and February 2014. Initial flight tests showed positive results in evaluations of performance and mechanical and electronic systems. On 9 April 2014, Textron AirLand announced that the Scorpion had reached 50 flight hours over 26 flights. It was flown as high as 30,000 ft (9,100 m), at speeds as fast as 310 kn (360 mph; 570 km/h) and 430 kn (490 mph; 800 km/h), and subjected to G-forces ranging from 3.7 to -0.5 Gs. Stall speed was identified at slower than 90 kn (100 mph; 170 km/h). Other tests performed included single-engine climbs and in-flight engine shutdown and restart. Pilots reported that the Scorpion was nimble, agile, and powerful even when flown on one engine, with good low speed characteristics. The aircraft demonstrated an intercept of a Cessna 182 as a typical general aviation aircraft. Few issues were encountered, attributed to the use of mature, non-developmental systems. 300-400 flight hours are to be performed in 2014 over 150 flights, including a number of international flights.
As of 19 May 2014, the Scorpion had flown 76.4 hours in 41 test flights; no planned flights were cancelled due to mechanical or maintenance issues, but several were cancelled due to weather. Incremental improvements were to be made to the aircraft over the course of testing, but participation in the Farnborough International Airshow accelerated changes. Modifications made to the Scorpion include an engine inlet ice protection system and a metal inlet leading edge in place of the composite one for flying in a broader range of weather conditions, a cockpit ladder so the pilot does not need a ground crew ladder, an onboard oxygen-generating system in place of oxygen bottles, and other non-urgent items. The modified Scorpion will be painted and resume flights on June 1 before going to the U.K.
The Scorpion took part in an exercise in August 2014 in an attempt to generate interest in an order from the U.S. Air National Guard. The exercise scenario was a tornado hitting a train carrying chemicals in Kansas, creating a large chemical spill requiring cleanup and search-and-rescue operations. A Textron test pilot flew the Scorpion, which circled the area for a few hours and transmitted full motion video of the area to Guard members. The Scorpion's part in the exercise was to demonstrate the aircraft's intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities to fill a niche for Air Guard missions. The Scorpion achieved a 100 percent mission availability, providing color HD multi-spectral aerial reconnaissance full motion video and communications with other aircraft and ground stations from August 4–6.
Following the first flight, discussions were scheduled with an unnamed foreign customer who waited until the flight to begin sales discussions. Active and reserve U.S. military components and at least one more foreign country are also interested in discussions. The company claimed that interest from military and paramilitary organizations had been positive and indicated that they intend to sell the aircraft for under US$20M each. Aircraft development-to-flight time was expected to take 4–5 years, but the goal of the first flight within at least 24 months was achieved. The phrase "speed is paramount" serves as impetus for the program, with the objective of creating the plane, flying it, and selling it as fast as possible to not miss market opportunities. The plan is to secure a contract first, then begin low-rate production and transition to full-rate production. Textron AirLand sees a market for up to 2,000 Scorpion jets.
On 18 May 2014, Swiss voters rejected a government plan to buy 22 Saab Gripen fighters for 3.1 billion francs (US$3.5 billion) to replace 54 aging F-5 Tigers of the Swiss Air Force. In response, Textron Airland president Bill Anderson offered the Scorpion to fill the Swiss Air Force's needs. He claimed it was cheaper than the Gripen and performed 90 percent of required tasks like airspace surveillance and intelligence. Though Anderson suggested the deal, no official offer for Switzerland to buy the Scorpion has been made.
Preliminary discussion have been held with the militaries of Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with Malaysia and Brunei seen as the most likely customers. In November 2014, sources confirmed that the United Arab Emirates had held discussions with Textron about the Scorpion. They are interested in it specifically for the Al Fursan aerobatic squadron, which Textron believes could lead to an expanded military role. However, the UAE is reluctant to be the launch customer for a new aircraft and wants another customer to be found first before officially signing on. A deal may be secured by 2016.
In November 2014, the Nigerian Air Force expressed interest in acquiring the Scorpion to counter the Boko Haram insurgency by having surveillance and effective strike capabilities in one airframe; Nigeria operates the unarmed ATR 42 to detect targets, which then have to be relayed to a Chengdu F-7Ni, which are armed but cannot carry precision guided weapons, making them ineffective for strikes in urban environments. The Nigerian Air Force plans to request the sale of up to a squadron’s worth of aircraft, but given a previous rejection for attack helicopters, approval to the country may not be guaranteed.
The U.S. Air Force is considering the Scorpion as an inexpensive ground attack platform if its plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II proceed. Under the plan, the A-10's close air support mission would be filled by F-16s and F-15Es until sufficient numbers of the F-35A come online. Once that happens over the next decade, a relatively inexpensive replacement aircraft may be considered to perform CAS against enemies that lack sophisticated air defenses.
- Crew: 2
- Length: 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m)
- Wingspan: 47 ft 4 in (14.43 m)
- Height: 14 ft (4.3 m)
- Empty weight: 11,800 lb (5,352 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 21,250 lb (9,639 kg)
- Fuel capacity: 6,000 lb (2,722 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Honeywell TFE731 Turbofan, 4,000 lbf (18 kN) thrust each
- Maximum speed: 450 kn (518 mph; 833 km/h)
- Stall speed: 95 kn (109 mph; 176 km/h) (max)
- Ferry range: 2,400 nmi (2,800 mi; 4,400 km)
- Service ceiling: 45,000 ft (14,000 m)
- Hardpoints: 6 with a capacity of 6,200 lb (2,800 kg), and an internal bay with a 3,000 lb (1,400 kg) of armaments and other stores,
- Bombs: precision and non-precision munitions
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
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