First production-configuration Scorpion takes to the skies
The first production conforming version of the Textron AirLand Scorpion light reconnaissance/strike/training aircraft has made a successful maiden flight at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. Experimental test pilots Don Parker and Dave Sitz carried out a series of tests on the multi-mission, twin-seater, twin-engine jet during the one hour and 42 minute flight to verify the avionics and flight performance of the aircraft as well as other flight systems.
The Scorpion has been gathering comments in aviation circles since its first prototype flights in 2014. Developed in partnership between Textron and Airland Enterprises, the tandem-seat, twin-engine aircraft was first conceived and developed in secret in 2011 in a project to create the "world's most affordable tactical jet aircraft."
Unlike other military aircraft, the Scorpion was developed with a relentless emphasis on keeping costs down by relying on off-the-shelf components and existing designs from Cessna business jet construction, as well as using market research rather than government specifications as a way to identify needs not addressed by current aircraft.
The company prefers to call the Scorpion an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)/strike/trainer jet rather than a light attack jet because it's intended for smaller air forces or missions that rely on a cheaper, more flexible aircraft rather than going toe-to-toe with a F-35 Lightning II or a Chinese J-20 fighter.
These missions include light ground attack, aerospace control, border security, counter narcotics, disaster response, maritime security, and irregular warfare, such as the Coalition forces carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. Toward this end, the Scorpion relies on advanced sensors and the ability to operate about 15,000 ft (4,500 m) to avoid ground fire.
Though designed as a tandem seater, the Scorpion can be flown by a single pilot. It has an expected cost of US$20 million apiece with an operating cost of US$3,000 per flight hour. It's 14.4-m (47-ft) wings have very little sweep and have six hard points with a payload capacity of 6,200 lb (2,800 kg). Their modular design allows for the wings to be replaced by different designs.
To keep weight and costs down, the Scorpion has an all-composite fuselage with only the undercarriage, engine fittings and mounts made of metal. Inside, there's a 3,000-lb (1,400-kg) payload section to carry various munitions and recon gear. To simplify the design, the airframe does not include fly-by-wire systems.
The Scorpion is powered by two Honeywell TFE731 turbofans punching 8,000 lb of thrust for a maximum speed of 450 kt (518 mph, 833 km/h) and a service ceiling of 45,000 ft (13,700 m). Endurance is rated at five hours of loitering 150 mi (241 km) from base.
Textron says the new production version of the Scorpion has been improved based on customer feedback and 800 hours of flight testing, including military training exercises and operations in 10 countries. These upgrades include new avionics, a modified airframe, four degrees of sweep added to the wings, simplified landing gear, a next-generation Heads Up Display (HUD) and Hands-On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) controls.
In addition, Garmin is now providing the Scorpion with the advanced G3000 integrated flight deck featuring a high-definition display and two high-definition touch-screen controllers, as well as improved navigation systems in the rear cockpit position.
According to Textron, today's flight follows the prototype Scorpion's successful weapons capability exercise in October. The new production version will now begin its flight test program in cooperation with the US Air Force to assess its airworthiness.