When Textron AirLand LLC, a joint venture between Textron Inc. and AirLand Enterprises LLC, was established to rapidly design and manufacture an affordable, versatile, tactical military jet, common wisdom was against the company. “The development schedule for military aircraft through the traditional RFP process can be 10 to 20 years,” says Dave Sylvestre, director of corporate communications for Textron. “We saw a market opportunity for this military jet, and we didn’t think it was in our benefit to wait that long.”
The Scorpion Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike aircraft program kicked off in January 2012 and launched its first flight Dec. 12, 2013. The jet features an all-composite airframe and structure. “Leveraging commercially available technologies and processes developed by affiliated companies Cessna and Bell Helicopter, we were able to develop the Scorpion in under 23 months,” says Sylvestre. “That, in the military market, is almost unheard of.”
The Scorpion was independently designed to meet a gap in the military market between turbo propeller-operated aircraft that perform surveillance and the opposite end of the spectrum, more advanced combat aircraft such as the F16, F18 and F35. Textron AirLand’s goal was the middle ground, providing speed and range capability with an economical configuration that recognizes current constraints impacting many government budgets. The Scorpion is ideally suited for border and maritime security missions, counter narcotics, irregular warfare support, humanitarian assistance/disaster response and aerospace control alert.
The Scorpion program’s ambitious goals included a purchase price of below $20 million per jet and a flight per hour cost of less than $3,000. By comparison, operation of the fourth and fifth generation F16 or F18 fighters can be as much as $14,000 to $15,000 per hour, according to Textron AirLand President Bill Anderson. “We surmised that if we could make a strong, solid and stable jet without the issues posed by metal aircraft, we would achieve a low cost for operation as well as reduce the ownership cost over the life of the aircraft,” says Sylvestre.
Enter the approximately 200 development engineers, technicians and mechanics – primarily from sister company Cessna – who fast tracked their work on the Scorpion program in “The Glass House,” Cessna’s development facility located adjacent to Fort McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan.
“Composites are a big part of the Scorpion’s story,” says Sylvestre. “The lighter the jet, the more you can carry, including a large, modular interior payload bay meant to house high-technology equipment for reconnaissance such as sensors, cameras, computer components, cooling equipment and wiring. Composites are light weight but they are durable.”