Scorpion jet may have a shot in possible Air Force contest

Textron AirLand Scorpion in the air

Textron AirLand's $20 million Scorpion (courtesy of Textron Aviation)
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Textron AirLand's $20 million Scorpion (courtesy of Textron Aviation)

A new opportunity may be opening up for Textron AirLand’s Scorpion jet.

The Air Force Times reported this week that a newly created Air Force office could be soon testing the Wichita-built Scorpion alongside three other in-production aircraft to augment its aging fleet of A-10 Warthogs.

The other aircraft include another Textron and Wichita product, the Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, as well as the A-29 Super Tucano and a variant of the Alenia Aermacchi M-346.

The Times did not give a date for when the testing would occur but quoted an official of the new Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office who said the testing would last about 135 days.

An Air Force spokeswoman said Wednesday that the “light attack experimentation … is still at the something-we’re-considering-doing stage so we don’t have any detailed plans we can release.”

Textron said in a statement Wednesday that the Air Force has not issued a final set of requirements for possible testing, but “once that is done, Beechcraft Defense and Textron AirLand will assess those requirements to determine whether the company’s platforms will be a good fit.”

But any plans by the U.S. to consider an “off-the-shelf” aircraft could be a boon for the multi-role Scorpion, which last month successfully completed a series of weapons tests at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

“It shows the capability and credibility of this platform and our ability to deliver a strong showing with respect to armaments,” Textron Aviation chief executive Scott Ernest said last month.

The company is marketing the jet for missions including maritime and border security, surveillance and reconnaissance, and flight training.

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.

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

Textron officials have said the jet is designed to be a low-cost, low-maintenance solution to bigger, faster and more expensive military jets. They think they have a jet that is affordable for smaller countries that don’t have the financial ability to purchase a military jet that costs tens of millions of dollars.

The company thinks the Scorpion has a market potential for at least 1,000 orders, Ernest said in last month’s interview.

Any kind of order from the Air Force, no matter how small, could help accelerate sales of the jet to foreign governments.

“I think it does to some degree,” Wayne Plucker, senior aerospace and defense industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan, said Wednesday.

Plucker said the Scorpion and even the AT-6 could fit the kind of mission that the Air Force is looking for to provide close air support and supplement its A-10s, the first one of which was delivered in 1975.

“Some ability to deliver a lot of rounds very precisely and with some loiter capability — the ability to hang around and wait for a moving target,” he said. “It’s just got to be a good platform for gunning and right now we don’t have anything other than an A-10.”

Plucker also said that the Pentagon has increasingly been interested in protecting the U.S. industrial base. And with Textron having a new aircraft that seems to meet the overall requirements, “the Textron bird works into the discussion early.”

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark