Scorpion light attack jet in Wichita, ready for first flight

05/20/2014 10:32 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Textron AirLand’s military light attack jet, the Scorpion, is ready to fly.

Now it just needs the Kansas winds to cooperate.

The first Scorpion prototype is sitting inside a hangar at Cessna Aircraft’s facility on East Pawnee just waiting for the right conditions.

Waiting, too, are the two test pilots, engineers and scores of others who have worked on the project over the past two years.

A north wind scratched Wednesday’s planned first flight. But the forecast looks good for Thursday.

“The winds are out of our control,” said Dale Tutt, chief engineer on the Scorpion project. “I think the team is excited to get it done.”

The twin-engine jet is expected to take off for the 1 1/2-hour flight next door at McConnell Air Force Base.

During the flight, the pilots will climb 10,000 to 15,000 feet, then fly at a speed of 172 to 230 mph to evaluate the plane’s handling characteristics.

They may fly to a small, nearby airport to do an approach in a landing configuration.

And they will fly to a controlled test plan, Tutt said.

“We’re trying to be as safe as possible,” he said.

The plane is equipped with a large parachute and more than 1,000 pounds of flight test instrumentation loaded in the payload bay.

The Scorpion was designed from scratch and built at Cessna’s east Wichita site in secrecy beginning in early 2012.

It’s expected to fly at a maximum speed of 517 mph, have a service ceiling of 45,000 feet and a ferry range of 2,400 nautical miles.

Low-volume production is slated for 2015.

“The last couple of weeks have been surreal,” Tutt said.

The plane has had the necessary inspections to be licensed as an experimental aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration. And testing has continued.

Testing and early production on the project will occur in Wichita, officials have said. Beyond that, it remains to be seen where production would be handled.

The nearly all-composite plane borrows technology, but not the design, used in Cessna’s Citation business jets.

It was built without government funds, and the company didn’t go through the usual procurement process in which the military issues specifications and companies compete for the project.

The Scorpion is designed for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance missions and will have strike capabilities.

The plane was built for a world of tight defense budgets, the company has said. It will cost less than $20 million to buy and less than $3,000 an hour to operate.

The Scorpion is being built by a new Textron division, Textron AirLand, a joint venture with AirLand Enterprises. It was introduced at the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in National Harbor, Md.

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