About 40 contract employees, most of them engineers, working on Textron’s Scorpion military project were let go last week as their contracts came to an end, a Textron spokesman confirmed.
A large number of contract engineers were needed for the design and prototype stages of the Scorpion project, an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance strike aircraft.
“Scorpion is past those phases now and into the test flights and final design refinements,” Textron spokesman David Sylvestre said in an e-mail. “That calls for fewer contract resources.”
About 75 percent of those affected were engineers. The rest were working in supporting functions that are no longer essential for the next stage of Scorpion’s testing and final design.
Scaling the team of contractors up or down is part of the plane’s flexibility, he said. That’s normal for the development of any new military jet with a multiyear development cycle. The ability to adjust the number of contract workers is important for controlling costs, he said.
“Keep in mind that the entire development of Scorpion is being self-funded by Textron, unlike a typical military aircraft development process which would be heavily funded by government allocations,” Sylvestre said.
Other contracts may come to an end as planned, because the contracts are for a set amount of time. Other contractors may be hired as needs change as it enters new project phases, he said.
About 70 people now work on the Scorpion project.
The program, underway at Cessna Aircraft’s property in southwest Wichita, is on schedule and the sales team has been pursuing a launch customer for the program, Sylvestre said.
The twin-engine composite jet flew for the first time in December.
The Scorpion is being built by a new Textron division, Textron AirLand, a joint venture with AirLand Enterprises. Interest has been strong from the U.S. and U.S. partner nations, Sylvestre said.
“The plan is still to secure that first contract, then move ahead to low rate production and then to full rate production, he said.
Scorpion has recently been on display at a number of military trade shows, including shows in India, Singapore and soon Chile, Sylvestre said. It has also been the focus of recent events with the U.S. Air National Guard and the Air Force Association.
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.