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Flightline Friday, part 1: new hardware December 13, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, fun, silliness, Society.
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There was a press release today, to some fanfare, from Textron Systems, Inc, announcing a new combat aircraft.  This bird had been developed in some secrecy, and in a hurry.  The effort apparently only started last year, but has already resulted in a prototype that has made its first flight, apparently just yesterday.

The Scorpion is a private venture between Textron (meaning their subsidiary, Cessna) and something called AirLand Enterprises, which I’ve never heard of.  AirLand apparently contracted with Textron/Cessna to build the bird, which incorporates a lot of parts from Cessna’s very successful Citation line of bizjets.

The aircraft is intended to be a light attack and recon bird with internal weapons bay and twin turbofan engines.  The twin Honeywell TF731 turbofans produce 4000 lbst each.  The Scorpion has a nominal empty weight of 11800 lbs and a max takeoff weight of 21250.  Max speed is 450 kt.  It has a straight wing with a bunch of hardpoints for fuel and munitions.

I am kind of puzzled by the design. We are rapidly exiting Afghanistan (although, “rapid” may not be very accurate, there are more and more reports that substantial forces may remain for a long time), and the Bush/Gates emphasis on focusing hardware development on low-intensity anti-terrorist missions is rapidly becoming passe’ in the military.  The US is looking east, to China, and an increasingly capable and aggressive peer competitor.  The relatively low-tech drones and aircraft used in the pursuit of terrorists (often illegally and immorally) like the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, MC-12W Liberty, etc., are simply not even remotely survivable in even moderately defended airspace (ok, maybe the Reaper, a little, but any kind of serious SAM threat would decimate them).  The USAF in particular has been seeking to shuck these aircraft and their associated missions as fast as possible.

My point is, I’m not sure just what Textron expects this aircraft to do, or, more importantly, who will be interested in buying it. There has been a Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance competition ongoing, but that was decided this year and given to the ludicrously overpriced Embraer Tucano.  I’m not even clear if that program has survived sequester.  USAF has already planned to remove the much more capable A-10 Warthogs from service, claiming lack of funds, so I’m skeptical USAF will ever buy a non-stealthy light attack craft.

The problem for Textron is that, even if they manage to make a profit selling the Scorpion for the intended $25 million flyaway cost, that aircraft will still be much more expensive than competing turboprops and drones.  But, it seems, it will be more capable. It will have a higher top speed, higher ceiling, and somewhat competitive range (5 hours endurance, supposedly).  I don’t see a big market for this, but who knows.  Textron is apparently hanging their hopes on the F-35 buy being massively reduced or certain variants outright cancelled.

USAF does need a new supersonic advanced trainer.  The T-38s are ancient.  Everyone of them is older than me, and I ain’t young.  It is possible Textron is trying to develop a related family on their own initiative, starting with a low-cost attack jet that can then be easily modified into a trainer.  Northrop started with the N-156 design, which became the F-5 and T-38.  They sold over 3000 of the same basic design.  Maybe Textron is hoping lightning will strike twice.

Anyways, to the important part, the pictures:

thCARRP1K5

The broad fuselage with widely spaced engine nacelles is needed to provide internal space for the ventral weapons bay

The broad fuselage with widely spaced engine nacelles is needed to provide internal space for the ventral weapons bay

 

Vignette-HADR

Large space between engines provides room for internal weapons bay, also provides additional lift

Large space between engines provides room for internal weapons bay, also provides additional lift

Scorpion-External-Stores1

details

The plan is to equip the aircraft with capable EO/IR sensors, target designators, etc., a la the DAS-1 multispectral targeting system in the MQ-9 Reaper

The plan is to equip the aircraft with capable EO/IR sensors, target designators, etc., a la the DAS-1 multispectral targeting system in the MQ-9 Reaper

A couple more thoughts, based on looking at the design.  There really isn’t much need for it to have two seats.  And the fuselage looks unnecessarily sleek in places.  I am guessing Textron does intend to develop this into a competitor for the T-X competition to replace the T-38.

You can see obvious design compromises.  The straight wing is needed for load and range, but hurts performance.  The canted tails say high performance but the wing says no way, Jose. It seems almost a bit of a kluge.

If you put swept swings on it, it would look alot, from above, like an F-14. That’s what I can almost see this developing into – a sort of cheapo supersonic combat aircraft, without stealth.  Put on swept wings with cambered control surfaces, a couple of 10000 lbst afterburning turbofans, max takeoff weight about 30,000 lbs……you could have a pretty nifty (and hopefully cheap) light fighter.

 

Comments

1. Don - December 13, 2013

Cheap is what the US could use. From much of what I’ve read about the F-35 it screams bloat. And will it ever be the performer they promised. How much money has been dumped into the F-35 program is probably astonishing if we ever could get the real figures. How many trillions is unaccounted for in the pentagon over the years? Astonishing! And we know where that money is, in secret accounts. Rape of the taxpayers and it is only getting worse.

Until the Pope does what was asked by Our Lady of Fatima, consecrate RUSSIA, not the world to her Immaculate Heart, we are in a spiral down in this world. Where is the bottom? I recall a remark that Cardinal George made a few years back, that he expected to die in his bed, his successor would die in prison and his successor would die a martyr.

Peace

JMJ

tantamergo - December 13, 2013

Hey, I wanted the F-35 cancelled 14 years ago and improved F-16s built. But with the cancellation of everything else, it’s the only thing left.

2. Blaine - December 14, 2013

Oh don’t get me started on single engine planes in Naval Aviation.

This thing looks pretty cool. I could see it as a comparable or bit more capable T-45. Of course, as a CAS/ground attack aircraft, you’re right in that nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the Warthog.

I can also see this made in a civilian version for the emerging personal jet market. Not that I will ever be in that.


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