The Textron AirLand Scorpion first flew in late 2013

Textron AirLand Scorpion

Budget-Friendly Multimission Tactical Aircraft

Scorpion Multimission Tactical Aircraft

The Textron AirLand Scorpion isn't the fastest or most capable jet flying in today's skies but it's certainly among the most innovative and enterprising. Conceived as a reduced-cost multimission tactical aircraft that developing nations can afford, the Scorpion first flew in late 2013. Since then, it’s spent hundreds of hours airborne, flown across the Atlantic four times and toured ten countries. Only a single Scorpion prototype (‘N531TA’) is currently airworthy but the first production example of this excellent new design should fly later on in 2016.

Scorpion Construction

Scorpion Development

Scorpion development got underway in January 2012. Less than 24 months later, the prototype had its first flight, making its developmental programme relatively short by modern standards. Physical construction of it took place at Cessna’s Wichita factory, behind a veil of secrecy, between April 2012 and September 2013. On 16 September, it was unveiled at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition held in National Harbor, Maryland.

Taxi trials were performed before, on 12 December, the Scorpion got airborne for the first time. Operating from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, the aircraft spent 1 hour 20 minutes in the air, keeping its undercarriage lowered throughout the flight. Pilot Dan Hinson later spoke extremely positively about this first Scorpion flight, stating: “Having flown many tactical aircraft throughout my 23-year career with the US 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. It showed impressive stability and responsiveness closely matching all of the predicted parameters for today’s maneuvers — it’s going to be a highly capable aircraft for the ISR and homeland security mission set.”

Scorpion RIAT 2015

Scorpion Flights

By April 2014, the Scorpion prototype had notched up 50 flying hours. In July 2014, it crossed the Atlantic to make its international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), going on to also be a part of the Farnborough Air Show held later that month. That same year, it participated in Operation Vigilant Guard – its first exercise. During it, the Scorpion took on a reconnaissance role, demonstrating 100 per cent operational readiness throughout the exercise period. It ‘supported rapidly changing events on the ground, providing the Joint Task Force Commander crucial incident awareness to dynamically re-task surveillance and first responder teams as the complex disaster relief scenarios evolved’, Textron AirLand subsequently wrote, this just eight months on from its first flight.

The following year saw another Atlantic Scorpion crossing for a second RIAT appearance. Whilst in the UK, the Scorpion also carried out demonstration trials alongside Royal Navy Westland Sea King ASaC7 airborne surveillance and control helicopters. These served to showcase its viability in the maritime arena. As this Fact File was being prepared, the Scorpion’s flying hours total had reached 600 hours and the aircraft would soon be flying across the Atlantic for a third time. A first production airframe was also due to make its first flight in coming weeks.

Scorpion Features

Scorpion Features

The Scorpion has several distinctive features including its straight wings and ‘V-tail’, which serve to make it readily identifiable in the air and on the ground. Use is made of numerous parts from preceding aircraft designs including several Cessna Citation business jet models. Such ‘off-the-shelf’ parts use is in line with the Scorpion’s low-budget philosophy (Textron AirLand gives its per-unit price as below $20 million and its per-hour operating cost at circa $3,000).

Composite materials make up the bulk of its airframe, which is designed to last for 20,000 hours. The only exceptions to this all-composite rule are the Scorpion’s undercarriage, engine fittings and engine mounts. Significantly, the option’s there to upgrade the aircraft’s weapons and sensor capabilities with only minimal associated costs involved. In Textron AirLand’s own words, this makes the Scorpion 'future-proofed…uniquely capable of integrating sensors and mission packages as threats and missions evolve.’

Scorpion Engines

Sensors And Weapons

The aircraft’s sensor mounts retract while its weapons rails can carry up to 6,200 pounds of ordnance overall. There are six of these rails in total - three on each wing. Moving from the innermost to the outermost, their weight limits are 1,750 pounds (794 kilograms), 950 pounds (431 kilograms) and 400 pounds (181 kilograms), respectively. An additional 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of weapons or other items can be accommodated within an internal bay that, thanks to modular partitioning, can be rapidly reconfigured as mission requirements dictate.

Scorpion Engines

The Scorpion was originally conceived as a single-engined design but evolved into a twin-engined aircraft. These two engines are Honeywell TFE731 turbofans that are digitally-controlled and produce a combined 8,000 pounds of thrust. With a maximum speed of 518 miles per hour (833 kilometres per hour), the Scorpion is speedy enough to quickly reach battle zones but can also loiter at much slower airspeeds.

Scorpion Systems

The Scorpion’s cockpit provides seating for two. It features multifunction displays providing flight, navigation and weapons data. HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle-And-Stick) is another Scorpion cockpit feature, one that bridges the gap between jet trainers and more sophisticated frontline combat aircraft. Fly-by-wire flight controls might have been included but weren’t, in order to keep down the aircraft’s cost.

Scorpion Roles

Scorpion Roles

The Scorpion is primarily a close-air support (CAS), maritime security, airborne interception and jet training platform. Other Scorpion roles include border security, counter-narcotics, counter-insurgency (COIN) and forward air control.

Scorpion Operators

With only one prototype flying and no firm orders yet placed, there are no frontline Scorpion operators at present. However, several nations are interested in purchasing it for their air arms, not least of which Nigeria which may acquire a whole squadron’s worth. Columbia is another potential Scorpion operator: the aircraft’s already been demonstrated there and its air force is in the market for a Cessna A-37 Dragonfly replacement. Bahrain, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar are all in the might-be-interested camp and discussions involving the UAE have already taken place. A contract arising from these Textron AirLand-UAE talks could yet emerge in 2016.

Key Facts

Role: Tactical aircraft
Length: 43 ft 6 in (13.26 m)
Wing span: 47 ft 4 in (14.43 m)
Engines: Two Honeywell TFE731 turbofans, producing 4,000 pounds thrust each
Maximum speed: 518 mph (833 km/h)
Maximum range: 2,800 miles (4,400 km)
Maximum height: 45,000 ft (14,000 m)
Crew: Two pilots
Weapons: Precision/non-precision munitions
First flown: 12 December 2013

Textron AirLand Scorpion images copyright/courtesy Textron AirLand and Paul Fiddian
Textron AirLand Scorpion footage copyright Textron AirLand – courtesy YouTube

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