Textron AirLand Targets National Guard for Potential Sales

By Valerie Insinna

Textron AirLand continues to search for a customer for its Scorpion light attack airplane, but it will have the chance to prove the aircraft’s capabilities to the Air National Guard in August.

Guardsmen will not operate the Scorpion, which will be flown by a Textron test pilot during the demonstration, said Dale Tutt, the aircraft’s chief engineer. However, the Guard will have access to intelligence and reconnaissance data provided by the aircraft during the mock search-and-rescue operation at the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range near Salina, Kansas.

“The premise for the exercise is a tornado goes through Kansas and hits a train carrying chemicals, so you’re dealing with a large chemical spill cleanup,” Tutt said. “We’ll circle for a couple hours, transmitting full motion video of the area to the Guard members, and then we will return to base.”

The Scorpion was developed by a joint-venture of Textron Inc. and AirLand Enterprises and has been funded by the companies without any government money. The companies are marketing the aircraft as a low cost way to accomplish missions such as irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counter-narcotics and air-defense operations.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has said it is unlikely that the service could afford new aircraft beyond its three priorities: the F-35 joint strike fighter, KC-135 tanker and a new long-range bomber. However, Textron AirLand is continuing to brief Welsh on the Scorpion, and executives believe the possibility still remains for procurement by the National Guard, said Paul Weaver, a consultant to Textron AirLand and former director of the Air National Guard.

“I believe that he and the secretary have left room and are also looking at modernization programs in the Guard,” he said. “The Scorpion really fits in that niche.”

The company is also targeting international customers with the encouragement of the Air Force, Weaver said. The aircraft in July flew 4,700 nautical miles from Wichita, Kansas, to Gloucestershire, England, for the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show.

“We are in consultations with many partnership nations, some further along than others. I think as the aircraft becomes known … the doorway has been swinging inward a lot and a lot of our people have been traveling,” Weaver said. “We’re very hopeful.”

The Scorpion has performed at speeds of up to 455 knots and an altitude of 30,000 feet in flight tests, Tutt said. The company plans on taking the aircraft to its maximum altitude of 45,000 feet later this year. Executives also want to demonstrate the plane’s ability to drop precision-guided munitions.

Flight test performance has closely mirrored what was expected based on windtunnel testing and computational analysis, Tutt said. No unplanned modifications to the plane have been needed.

“We haven’t identified anything that’s caused us to really scratch our heads,” he said. “It’s kind of been a mundane flight test program, and that’s always a good thing.”

Textron could start initial deliveries 30 months after receiving its first order, Tutt added.

Topics: Aviation, Business Trends, Defense Department, DOD Budget, Procurement

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