Textron AirLand engineering test pilot Dan Hinson couldn’t quit smiling Thursday afternoon.
Neither could others working on the Scorpion intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance strike aircraft under development at a Cessna facility in east Wichita.
Hinson, a former Navy pilot, and co-pilot David Sitz successfully flew the Scorpion for the first time on what was a beautiful Thursday morning.
“It was fantastic,” Hinson said after the flight. “It leapt off the ground.”
Never miss a local story.
The flight marks one of the fastest developments of a U.S.-built tactical jet, Textron said. The project progressed from an initial design to first flight in less than 24 months.
“To go from paper to flying the airplane the first time is just a feeling of pride,” Hinson said. “It’s a great team.”
The twin-engine composite jet took off from McConnell Air Force Base at 9:05 a.m. to the south.
After firing up the left engine and then the right engine, “off we went,” Hinson said.
The Scorpion headed west toward Kingman and flew over Cheney Reservoir before returning to McConnell.
It landed at 10:30 a.m.
“I just greased her on,” Hinson said. “It had no tendency to float. It was nice and graceful on the runway.”
Hinson and Sitz conducted a range of flight handling maneuvers during the flight.
“The airplane is very light, very nimble,” Hinson said. “You’re flying with your fingertips.”
The plane met all expectations.
In fact, “the performance was better than we expected,” Hinson said.
The flight is a major milestone, Scott Donnelly, CEO of Textron, Cessna’s parent company, said in a statement. “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. Today’s flight met all expectations, and keeps us on track toward certification and production.”
On the first flight, the pilots kept the speed to no more than 200 knots and the altitude to between 10,000 and 15,000 feet.
The plane showed impressive stability and responsiveness, closely matching all of the predicted parameters for the flight’s maneuvers.
In the days leading up to the flight, Hinson went through all the steps of the first flight in a Scorpion simulator.
The airplane flew like the simulator, he said. That validates the analysis and wind tunnel testing that went before the flight.
Hinson, whose call sign is Shaka, has more than 5,000 flight hours in 79 different types of aircraft.
He spent 23 years with the Navy, where he flew F-18s and served as commander of the Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific in California. After retiring in 2008, he joined Beechcraft Corp. He joined Cessna in May 2012.
On his second day at Cessna, he was offered the job with the Scorpion project.
“I couldn’t say no,” Hinson said with a smile.
He’s worked closely with the design teams.
“I know this airplane better than I’ve known any airplane,” Hinson said.
It’s the first time he’s taken an all-new airplane up for its first flight.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” Hinson said. “I’m so proud of the team here for what they’ve done.”
The Scorpion prototype will now undergo a post-flight inspection before the next flight.
Hinson plans to take the plane back up for its second and third flights next week.
For Dale Tutt, chief engineer on the project, the first flight offered a great sense of accomplishment.
At the beginning of the project, people told Tutt that it was insane to expect to take on the project in such a short amount of time.
“They said it couldn’t be done in less than four or five years,” Tutt said.
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 plane’s twin turbofan engines generate 8,000 pounds of thrust, which allows it to transition easily between low speed and high subsonic speed for a diverse set of missions, such as irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counter-narcotics and air defense operations, Textron said.
The Scorpion has a cruising speed of up to 517 mph, a ferry range of 2,400 nautical miles, an internal payload of up to 3,000 pounds and wing-mounted precision munitions.