The announcement this week by Cessna parent Textron that it is pitching a new budget light attack jet to the Pentagon had us scratching our heads. The military hasn’t asked for anything like this, and with defense spending facing sharp cuts we have to ask if an airplane Textron calls the Scorpion stands any chance of making it into production.
Equally as puzzling is the choice of a partner for the project. Rather than enlist engineers at Cessna or Textron’s other aviation unit, Bell Helicopter, to lead the program, the company has instead formed a joint venture with a small startup called AirLand Enterprises, created by former defense officials including retired Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters.
Textron and AirLand announced plans for the Scorpion yesterday at an Air Force Association technology conference outside Washington, D.C. Textron CEO Scott Donnelly revealed that work on the project started early this year at the Cessna factory in Wichita and that a flying prototype will be ready to take to the skies in a few short months.
He noted that the Scorpion is being developed precisely because of tight budgets. Described as a “versatile Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike aircraft platform,” the Scorpion will cost less to buy and operate than other military airplanes and drones currently used for border patrol, narcotics intervention and spy missions. Textron is reportedly targeting an operating cost of around $3,000 an hour versus nearly 10 times that much for some platforms in use now.
As described by Textron and AirLand Enterprises, the Scorpion is a twin-engine jet with a straight wing and tandem seating. The engines are reportedly Honeywell TFE731s and the avionics will come from Cobham. Standard empty weight would be 11,800 pounds and max takeoff weight 21,250 pounds. The jet would have a top speed of 450 knots and a ceiling of 45,000 feet. Though not a Cessna project, initial low-rate production would be performed at Cessna’s Wichita factory.
Officials from Textron and AirLand Enterprises have pitched the concept to the Air Force. There has been no word on the reaction, but even if the Pentagon decided it wanted an airplane like the Scorpion, it couldn’t simply place an order. There first would need to be a lengthy design review process followed by a formal competition.
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