America’s Newest Jet Fighter Takes Flight
Textron’s Scorpion ‘met expectations’
Textron AirLand’s Scorpion lightweight attack jet made its maiden flight on Dec. 12 at 10:30 in the morning at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.
Test pilots Dan Hinson and David Sitz flew a 1.4-hour test sortie, testing the Scorpion’s handling characteristics. “It showed impressive stability and responsiveness closely matching all of the predicted parameters for today’s maneuvers,” Hinson says. “It’s going to be a highly capable aircraft for the ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and homeland security mission set.”
Hinson, a former U.S. Navy pilot, says that the Scorpion stacks up well against other counter-insurgency aircraft. “I can say that the Scorpion compares very favorably to more costly aircraft currently used for low-threat missions,” he says.
The company says that the Scorpion was designed for missions such as irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counter-narcotics and basic air-defense operations. Ostensibly, the aircraft is aimed at the Air Force’s Air National Guard component, but the service has shown no interest—and doesn’t have the budget to embark on a new program, anyway.
Regardless of how well the Scorpion might compare to other aircraft, analysts are baffled as to why Textron and partner Air Land Enterprises would fund such an expensive endeavor without a firm order. Most analysts have predicted that the company will struggle to generate sales for the privately-developed warplane.
The Scorpion was developed and flown in less than 24 months, according to Textron. “When the design phase began less than two years ago, we were confident that we would deliver a uniquely affordable, versatile tactical aircraft by taking advantage of commercial aviation technologies and best practices,” says Textron CEO Scott Donnelly. “Today’s flight met all expectations, and keeps us on track towards certification and production.”
The Scorpion is powered by twin Honeywell TFE731 geared turbofan engines generating 8,000 pounds of thrust. The aircraft has maximum speed of 450 knots and a range of 2,400 miles. It carries an internal payload of up to 3,000 pounds but it can also haul 6,200 pounds externally on six hardpoints.
If all goes as planned, Textron expects the Scorpion to enter production in 2015. But that’s a big if.