Textron AirLand’s new tactical jet, the Scorpion, is taking a short break from flight testing to undergo some significant modifications, including changes so it can fly over the ocean to the Farnborough International Airshow this summer.
The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance strike aircraft has been flying for five months.
The program called for incremental improvements to be made in the test plane along the way.
But after Textron officials decided to exhibit the Scorpion at the Farnborough airshow in England in July, the schedule was revised, and the changes are being made now, said Dale Tutt, chief engineer on the program.
The Scorpion will fly about 4,700 nautical miles from Wichita to the show, which will be a good place to market it to potential customers, he said.
“It’s safe to say that a lot of potential international customers we’ve been talking to are excited to see the airplane at Farnborough,” Tutt said. At other shows, attendees have seen only a model of the airplane.
“This will be a nice place to see it in person,” he said.
Modifications to add capabilities to the plane began after the Scorpion’s latest flight on May 1, he said.
For example, mechanics added an engine inlet ice protection system and replaced a composite leading edge of the inlet with a metal one to allow the plane to fly in a broader range of weather conditions.
They also added a cockpit ladder so the flight crew won’t have to rely on a ground crew with a ladder to get in and out of the jet.
And they’ve made some major improvements to the electrical and environmental control systems.
“We’re activating the onboard oxygen-generating system to be used in place of oxygen bottles,” Tutt said. “It provides a continuous supply of oxygen to the pilots.” And the oxygen bottles won’t have to be refilled at every stop.
A number of small, non-urgent items were also addressed, some of them as simple as the nomenclature on a switch, Tutt said.
Mechanics are finishing up, and the plane should be back in the air this week. It will be flown to Cessna Aircraft in west Wichita at the end of the week to be painted. Once that is done, it’s expected to resume flying about June 1, Tutt said.
It’s been a lot of work in a short period of time.
“We’ve been very pleased with how smoothly it’s gone,” Tutt said.
As the airplane comes out of modification, “everything is looking pretty stable,” Tutt said. “We’re excited about the fact that we get a good solid month of flying (in June). I’d be surprised if we didn’t put at least 30 hours on the airplane in the next month and be on our way to Farnborough.”
In order to get from design to flight in two years, some tradeoffs were made in the Scorpion’s design.
“This catches us up on a few major systems that we traded off on in order to go that fast,” said Dan Hinson, the Scorpion’s chief test pilot. “We knew about these for a long time. We were just looking for the right time to do them. When we decided to go to Farnborough, that drove the time frame.”
With the scope of the changes, the readiness of engineering, parts manufacturing and manpower to integrate the parts is impressive, Hinson said. “I’m watching the team work. I think it’s historic, the speed and the accuracy of what they’re integrating.”
In all, the Scorpion has made 41 test flights and has flown 76.4 hours.
The airplane has been flying reliably, Tutt said.
“We tend not to cancel flights due to mechanical or unscheduled maintenance issues,” he said. “We’ve had a number of flight cancellations due to weather.”
Textron announced the Scorpion in September as a demonstration plane designed to accommodate the budget restraints of shifting mission requirements of the U.S. Department of Defense and allies abroad.
The prototype was designed from scratch and built at a Cessna facility in east Wichita in secrecy, beginning in early 2012.
It was designed to take on a diverse set of missions, such as irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counternarcotics and defense operations, Textron said.
The Scorpion is being built by a new Textron division, Textron AirLand, a joint venture with AirLand Enterprises.
Low-volume production is slated for 2015. Testing and early production will be done in Wichita, company officials said.