Textron AirLand LLC (Wichita, Kan.) reports that it is continuing its development of a composite-airframed tactical fighter jet, the Scorpion. Begun in secrecy at a Cessna Aircraft facility (Cessna is a Textron company) in east Wichita in 2012 and revealed last September, the plane is the work of a joint venture between Textron Inc. (Providence, R.I.) and AirLand Enterprises LLC. The latter, a group of aerospace and defense executives, envisioned what the company calls a “clean-sheet” design for an affordable yet effective light jet for multiple markets that would complement current U.S. combat aircraft. Although orders for the jet have yet to be announced, several proposals have reportedly been pitched to potential military customers.
The multimission, tandem-seat twin jet, self-funded by Textron, went from design to flight in an unheard-of two-year time frame, thanks in part to tooling partner Leading Edge Aerospace (LEA, Wichita, Kan.). Vacuum-infused airframe tools for the demonstrator craft were created on lightweight foam masters, using dry carbon fabric and epoxy from Airtech International (Huntington Beach, Calif.), for lower cost compared to prepreg, yet are autoclave-capable with fairly tight tolerances, says LEA’s composites manager Rod Brown. Further, many of the systems on the test aircraft came from existing programs — one reason development time and cost were abbreviated.
After more than 40 flights, test pilots report that the Scorpion is nimble, with plenty of power and good low-speed characteristics, including stability in landing configuration.
According to Textron AirLand, the Scorpion will fly from Wichita to the U.K., appearing at the Royal Air Tattoo air show, July 11-13, and the Farnborough International Air Show, July 14-20. The shows will afford Textron AirLand officials opportunities to meet potential customers. The round-trip distance (nearly 10,000 nautical miles) will be logged as part of Scorpion’s 2014 testing program, expected to accrue as many as 400 test hours during about 150 flights. Low-volume production is expected to begin in 2015.
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The project’s goal is to reduce product development and certification timelines by 30 percent for composite aircraft.