The Scorpion is slated to depart for a seven-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean en route to its international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Airshow, both outside London next month. This is a notable step forward for a prototype reconnaissance, trainer and attack aircraft that achieved first flight only months ago.

Textron AirLand’s self-funded effort has no launch customer, and its appearance at the shows harkens back to a time when companies were more gutsy with their own development funds, air shows served as grandstands for a variety of new projects from companies flush with cash, and customers (militaries) had more to spend. 

This marks two major military firsts at the shows; Lockheed Martin’s F-35B also is debuting at both events (see page 55).

With Scorpion, however, Textron AirLand, the joint venture formed to develop and sell the aircraft, is making a daring—and unique—move. The hope is that a self-funded high-speed, twin-engine jet prototype designed to carry 3,000 lb. of payload and operate at under $3,000 per hour will entice tight-fisted customers globally and, ideally, in Washington. Bill Anderson, CEO of Textron AirLand, says a foreign launch customer is near, but he declines to say how near. The U.S. Air Force would be a preferred first customer, although given the service’s funding constraints an unlikely one .

The company unveiled the project in September, and first flight was in December. The team has since been expanding the flight envelope to Mach 0.76, 30,000 ft., 3.7g and minus 0.5g. The team has also conducted stall testing, says Dan Hinson, Scorpion test pilot.

With 100 flight hours under its belt, the Scorpion team conducted an endurance flight test this month to ensure that the longest leg of the crossing—from Toronto to Goose Bay, Canada—is well within reach. “We flew over 1,000 nautical miles from McConnell [AFB, Kansas] to Oklahoma City, and completed a few touch-and-go landings in the tower pattern once we got here,” Hinson says. The goal was to fly the four corners of Kansas, and the team reached a new endurance record of 3.4 hr. of flight time traveling more than 1,000 nm.

Two pilots will be onboard the Scorpion for the crossing. The aircraft is slated to depart Textron’s Wichita facility on July 1 for the trip to the U.K. It will be followed by the Cessna Citation Sovereign+ prototype, which will transport some of the gear and personnel needed for Scorpion’s debut

Textron AirLand unveiled the Scorpion prototype in September; the twin-engine jet design is intended to provide fast light attack and reconnaissance at a fraction of the operating cost of current fighters such as the single-engine F-16 and, eventually, the F-35 now in development. Backers hope it will fill a gap in capability—at a targeted $3,000 per hour operating cost—between turboprop attack aircraft and low-end fighters.

It could also lead to a design to compete for the Air Force’s forthcoming T-38C replacement aircraft. The service plans to buy at least 350 fast jet trainers.

Textron’s goal is for a quick, self-funded development. “For us, time is money,” says Anderson. He notes the company is drawing on experience from its commercial work on Cessnas to rapidly test and deliver Scorpion. Elements such as redundant cockpit equipment also come from the company’s commercial side.

Company officials had hoped to garner U.S. Air Force support with a small buy, knowing such an endorsement would bolster international support. The pitch is that Scorpion would be cheap to use for operations in a permissive environment, such as air defense in the U.S. or patrols over Afghanistan. “We need fourth- or fifth-generation fighters, but we don’t need them a large percentage of the time,” Anderson says.

But the budget environment in Washington is proving to be a stumbling block for a U.S. sale. This is not, however, prohibiting foreign customers from showing interest. “I won’t use the word overwhelming, but it has been outstanding,” Anderson says. “The folks we are talking to are willing to step out ahead of the Pentagon and be the launch customer.”

As well as the unnamed customer, Anderson says he is pursuing opportunities in the Pacific region, the Middle East and the Americas.

Post-air shows, the teams will shift focus toward supporting the Vigilant Guard exercise, a homeland defense demonstration supported by the Kansas National Guard. During the exercise, the team plans to showcase Scorpion as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; it will carry a Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared sensor in its belly bay.

Though integration work for weapons has not been demonstrated, Anderson hopes to conduct the first air-launched weapon separation by year-end. Scorpion was designed with hard points to accommodate numerous weapon types, including Hellfire missiles and 500- and 1,000-lb. GPS-guided bombs and laser-guided weapons.

As Scorpion is a self-funded prototype effort, the team is focused on flight testing. But officials are also cataloging changes that should be made for a production configuration, including the addition of a cockpit ladder, advanced datalinks and an onboard oxygen-
generating system. 


Crew 2

Wingspan 47.3 ft.

Length 43.5 ft.

Engines 2 Honeywell TFE731s

Thrust ~8,000 lb.

Max. Speed 450 kt.

Ceiling 45,000 ft.

Ferry Range 2,400 nm

Standard Empty Weight 11,800 lb.

Max. Takeoff Weight 21,250 lb.

Max. Internal Fuel Load 6,000 lb.

Max. Internal Payload 3,000 lb.

Max. External Stores 6,100 lb.

Hard Points 6

Source: Textron AirLand