Beechcraft’s AT-6 ‘flies beautifully,’ pilot says after inaugural flight

Beechcraft Corp. completed the inaugural flight of the first production AT-6 multimission light aircraft Tuesday morning as employees, dignitaries and others watched.

Pilots Lionel Alford and J.D. O’Malley started the engine, taxied to the runway and took to the skies.

“It is a fantastic airplane to fly,” Alford said after landing. “We call it care-free. You just set up the airplane; you’re ready to go. You fly it. It tells you if there’s something wrong with it. It flies beautifully.”

The company has built two prototypes of the AT-6, a light attack version of the T-6 trainer used to train Navy and Air Force pilots. The test airplanes have logged 1,600 hours of flight time.

The airplane flying Tuesday was the first to come down the production line with the trainers.

Beechcraft is offering the AT-6 to U.S. partner nations that need attack air support.

It can be used for border and maritime patrol and on attack missions with lower costs, company officials said.

“The AT-6 capabilities are robust,” said Russ Bartlett, president of Beechcraft Defense Co., a division of Beechcraft Corp. “This light attack aircraft is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment and avionics that will provide partnering nations with a proven air platform and weapons systems that are already in use by air forces around the world.”

The plane is capable of firing laser-guided bombs and missiles.

A camera placed on the bottom of the plane can “see” 30 miles away and can help guide a bomb to a precise target. The plane can fly high and out of range of small missiles launched from the ground, Alford said.

“It’s a pretty effective weapon even though it’s in a pretty small package,” Alford said of the small airplane.

The flight of the first production AT-6 highlights the efforts of Beechcraft employees involved in the plane’s design, development and production, said Bill Boisture, Beechcraft CEO.

“It’s an exciting day for the people of this company,” Boisture said.

The plane is a key part of the company’s future.

Beechcraft has seen a growing interest in the AT-6 internationally, Boisture said.

He expects the company to secure a launch customer for the aircraft by the end of the year.

“It’s a bit of a race of which one (potential customer) it will be,” Boisture said.

Going forward, Boisture said he expects the company to deliver 20 to 24 of the planes a year for the next several years.

Earlier this year, Beechcraft Corp.’s protest of a high-stakes Air Force contract for light support airplanes awarded to Sierra Nevada Corp. and its partner, Embraer, was rejected.

Beechcraft had offered its AT-6. Sierra Nevada offered Embraer’s Super Tucano.

The contract is for 20 planes for use in Afghanistan by Afghan military personnel and is worth more than $427 million. It could be worth as much as $1 billion with future orders.

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