Cessna Aircraft has dedicated a private facility and some of its top engineering talent and supply chain specialists to Textron AirLand’s new Scorpion intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, but whether the program remains in Wichita long-term is unclear.
Textron last week unveiled the Scorpion, a two-seat jet powered by twin Honeywell TFE731s. The project, in the works for 18 months, is the culmination of a joint venture between Textron and a young company – AirLand Enterprises. AirLand was formed by a small group of investors, including retired defense officials, to explore a new concept for light attack.
The Scorpion, announced during the annual Air Force Association Air & Space Conference outside Washington, is positioned to handle Air National Guard missions such as irregular warfare, border patrol, maritime surveillance, emergency relief, counter-narcotics and air defense operations. The company is hoping to attract interest with a low operating cost, far less than $3,000 per flying hour.
While the Scorpion was developed without a buyer, Textron believes that tight budgets will open the market for their new aircraft. “There is a market space right now ... One of the challenges we have today in the Defense Department is we see budgets coming down [and] that is exactly why this is the right time to do this,” says Textron CEO Scott Donnelly.
The design and development of the project has been conducted in secrecy over the past 18 months at a Cessna facility in Wichita that had been separate from most of the company’s operations. A Textron official notes that Wichita was the logical site for the development of the project, since that’s where Textron’s jet aircraft expertise and design capabilities reside.
The program began with about one or two dozen engineers – including some of Cessna’s top engineers – but eventually expanded to encompass more than 200 people.
The venture also added expertise outside the company with a background in designing light military jets. The aircraft incorporates some commercial design ideas, but it is a clean-sheet aircraft, not a modified Citation or military platform.
The Scorpion is in the final stages of assembly, and first flight is anticipated by year’s end, with a goal of heading toward low-rate production by early 2015. The flight test program will take place in Wichita, and the program will remain in its current facility until it moves into production. The engineers from Cessna have initially committed to the program for a two-year period, a company official says.