This morning, Textron AirLand successfully completed the first flight of the Scorpion, the company's new tactical twinjet, which was announced earlier this year. The Scorpion took off from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, and flew for 1.4 hours.
"The flight was completed according to plan," said test pilot Dan Hinson. "Having flown many tactical aircraft throughout my 23-year career with the U.S. Navy and with other aircraft manufacturers, I can say that the Scorpion compares very favorably to more costly aircraft currently used for low-threat missions."
The goal for the first flight was to "evaluate low speed handling characteristics especially in the landing configuration to make sure that we have good controllability," said the Scorpion program's lead engineer Dale Tutt. "As we proceed into the following flight test plans it will really be about expanding out to higher altitudes, higher speeds and evaluating the airplane in different configurations."
The team had already evaluated the current configuration of the airplane through low-speed wind tunnel testing in September 2012 in San Diego and high-speed wind tunnel testing in January of this year at a facility in the UK.
According to Textron AirLand's president Bill Anderson, the Scorpion design was first conceived on January 9, 2012. Getting a military jet from the drawing board to the skies in less than two years is ambitious, to say the least. But the team employed some clever strategies to get there.
Tutt, who has been working for Cessna, a subsidiary of Textron, in various engineering capacities since 1998, told Flying that one of the reasons the development went so quickly is that the Scorpion incorporates a lot of existing or mature systems, some off the Cessna Citation product lines. The commercial turbofan engines also keep fuel burns much lower than that of conventional military aircraft. "This is a lot like a business jet and we can compare it to a lot of the economics of our business jets as well," Tutt said.
The design team also brought in suppliers early and, in some cases, designed the airplane around existing systems. The ejection seat is one example where this strategy paid off. "Martin-Baker came in very early and they looked at our cockpit design and they let us know that if we didn't change a few dimensions on the cockpit they were going to have to spend millions of dollars to modify the seat," Anderson said.
The development strategies have enabled Textron AirLand to keep the cost of the Scorpion below $20 million, Anderson said. And the cost of operations is expected to be below $3,000 per hour, a significant decrease in cost over other military jets. According to retired U.S. Air Force Major General Paul Weaver Jr., the Air Force has quoted the cost per hour for the A10 at about $13,000 and the F-15 at as much as $23,000.
The idea of the Scorpion came from visionaries at AirLand and the project was entirely funded by Textron. There are, however, not yet any customers for the Scorpion. "We don't have any contracts but we certainly have a lot of positive interest both domestically and from the international market," Anderson said. "We could be delivering our first conforming airplane to a customer in 15 to 18 months after a contract has been signed. We have the facilities and the tools to build another airplane immediately."
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