Entry of Boeing training jet could complicate Scorpion sales

Boeing and Saab introduced the Boeing T-X jet on Tuesday in St. Louis, which will compete for what analysts said will be a lucrative, long-term contract to replace the Air Force’s decades-old T-38 jet trainer.
Boeing and Saab introduced the Boeing T-X jet on Tuesday in St. Louis, which will compete for what analysts said will be a lucrative, long-term contract to replace the Air Force’s decades-old T-38 jet trainer. Courtesy of Boeing

Boeing this week unveiled a new trainer and light attack aircraft that could compete with Textron AirLand’s Wichita-built Scorpion.

Boeing and its Swedish partner, Saab, unveiled their two-seat, single-engine supersonic jet in St. Louis.

The Boeing T-X is Boeing’s and Saab’s offering in the Air Force’s upcoming jet trainer replacement program, nicknamed the T-X competition.

That competition could be the biggest military airplane competition in years because it could involve the manufacture of hundreds of airplanes and be worth billions of dollars in revenue for decades to come.

“In general, fixed-wing military aircraft programs are at a premium these days,” said Ray Jaworowski, Forecast International senior aerospace analyst. “The types of numbers (the Air Force contract) promises … that’s why you’re seeing all the players line up for it.”

Textron AirLand hasn’t decided whether it will offer the Scorpion for consideration in the Air Force competition.

“Until a final set of requirements come out, we will not make a formal decision,” Textron AirLand spokeswoman Nikki Riemen said Wednesday.

Textron AirLand flew its first prototype Scorpion in December 2013. The airplane has accumulated more than 700 flight hours, and the first production Scorpion is expected to make its first flight soon, Riemen said.

The company has not taken any orders for the jet, which it has been marketing worldwide since 2013.

The Air Force is expected to release details on its requirements for the new trainer in December. The T-X competition serves to replace the Air Force’s fleet of Northrop T-38s that in January 2014 numbered 546, according to the Air Force’s website.

Based on the designs and aircraft being offered by the four companies competing for the work, one of the expectations is that the replacement jet will be supersonic – 767 mph – like the T-38. The Scorpion’s top speed is 518 mph.

“Like the T-38, the Boeing Saab version … is going to require the student pilot and instructor pay close attention to speeds and angles of attack, things like that,” said Wayne Plucker, a Frost & Sullivan analyst and former Air Force pilot.

“That’s something not as critical in the Scorpion, because it’s aimed at a slightly lower speed scheme and the opportunity to make more mistakes and live to talk about them.”

Even if Textron AirLand decides not to offer the Scorpion in the Air Force competition, the competition itself could shrink the market of opportunity for the Scorpion outside the U.S., Plucker said. Boeing and Saab are one of four teams that are competing for T-X work. The others are Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries; Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems; and Raytheon and Leonardo.

“As you can see from that list, the competition is pretty formidable,” Jaworowski said.

Affordable jet trainers that can double as light attack aircraft capable of supersonic speeds would be attractive to some foreign governments that, without the T-X competition, might have opted for the Scorpion.

“Everybody and their dog out there are waiting to see what the T-X program will be actually producing … just because they want to see what the complete canopy of offerings really is going to be,” Plucker said.

The winner of the T-X competition will also have an advantage over Textron and the others for foreign sales, Jaworowski said.

It’s “tough trying to sell aircraft that your home military isn’t buying,” he said.

In terms of sales outside the U.S., for Textron and others wanting to sell their jet trainers, it will come down to the price of the jet and the adaptability of its training program to the foreign armed service buying it, Plucker said.

“That and to some degree the ability of the aircraft to mirror … the cockpit feel, the sense to be similar to what the (student) pilot will experience when he grows up and goes to a big airplane,” Plucker said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark