With shrinking global procurement budgets, the light attack aircraft category is experiencing a renaissance of sorts as a low-cost alternative to the heavier, technology-laden mounts (and those Cold War warriors still in use) being offered by leading powers. Textron, a concern largely committed to the business jet and helicopter markets, has teamed with AirLand Enterprises (founded 2011) to develop the "Scorpion" light attack platform for possible submission to the US Air Force (USAF) and (perhaps ore realistically) other interested global parties. AirLand designed the basic concept of the Scorpion aircraft to which Textron joined as the primary brand label to help further the product - a vast departure for the company as it steps into fixed-wing aircraft territory dominated by the likes of Boring and Lockheed. The joint venture was born in January of 2012 and the Scorpion prototype has already completed its maiden flight with over 70 hours of testing to date (July 2014).
At its core, the Scorpion is a two-seat, twin-engine light attack platform featuring a straight, high-mounted wings allowing for easy clearance of underwing stores. The aircraft features three underwing hardpoints to each wing and an internal bay for ordnance and mission equipment. In all, its external carrying load reaches 6,000lb while its internal loads are restricted to 3,000lb. The aircraft is therefore setup to accomplish low-level, high-speed attacks or reconnaissance sorties through use of precision, guided, homing or conventional ordnance while displaying an inherent capability to support specialized mission equipment.
The cockpit sports tandem seating for two with an all-modern digital arrangement though lacking in fly-by-wire control - a design decision made to keep procurement and operational costs in check. The wings are fitted just aft of the cockpit ay midships and atop the fuselage spine. The engines are situated in a spaced, side-by-side arrangement at the center-rear of the airframe with each engine aspirated by rectangular intakes located aft of the cockpit. The engines exhaust through traditional exhaust rings at the base of each vertical fin. The empennage is made up of a pair of outward-canted vertical tail fins and a pair of horizontal tailplanes. The undercarriage is wholly retractable and of a conventional tricycle arrangement. The complete wingspan of the Scorpio measures 47.3 feet while the fuselage is 43.5 feet long. Empty weight is listed at 11,800lb with a Maximum Take-Off Weight of 21,250lb. The Scorpion will lack active stealth measures in another bid to keep costs down but its construction will incorporate composites for a lightweight, yet robust, approach.
Power for the Scorpion will be served through 2 x Honeywell TFE731 engines developing 8,000lbs of thrust though these engines will be interchangeable to suit customer requirements. The standard engine pairing will provide a maximum speed of450 knots, an maximum ceiling of 45,000 feet and a ferry range out to 2,400 nautical miles. Total mission endurance is slated to be approximately five hours - allowing for frontline combat service (interdiction strikes and the like) as well as extended loitering times above a target area (active armed patrolling/ Close-Air Support (CAS)). Textron is developing the Scorpion as a "low-cost" system with a target goal of $3,000 an operational hour with inherently strong fuel-use qualities in addition to low maintenance requirements when compared to current American warplanes used in the strike role over Afghanistan.
While the US military is not currently seeking out a new light strike platform, the Textron product may very well appeal to those foreign air powers requiring such a system under stricter defense budgets - particularly those air powers lacking the resources to procure and operate the current and newer line of strike platforms (even including UAVs) that are inherently expensive by their very nature. It remains to be seen what the Scorpion will offer the current and near-future market though the design remains a promising addition to the world of light strike.