The light strike aircraft category continues to be a growing market around the globe as more advanced platforms grow increasingly out of reach for burgeoning air powers. Beechcraft Corporation, founded by Walter Beech in 1932 and based in Wichita, Kansas, found success with the introduction of their T-6 "Texan II" in 2001. Sales were strengthened by the adoption of the system under the United States Air Force (T-6A) and Navy (T-6B) branches. Additionally, the Canadian, Greek, Moroccan and Israeli air forces added their numbers to production which has since yielded over 630 units. The Texan II was born from the Pilatus PC-9 series of 1984 of which 250 were produced and sold around the world.
Adding to the T-6 lineage today is the AT-6, a turboprop-powered light strike/training platform intended to fulfill the increasing need by air powers to field a reliable and proven multi-role solution where jet-powered mounts are either too costly or considered overkill in certain theaters. The AT-6 is therefore marketed as an affordable alternative to the more expensive, technologically-advanced strike aircraft while covering a multi-faceted approach that includes Close Air Support (CAS), Forward Air Control (FAC), armed reconnaissance and other military-minded sorties. The design of the AT-6 is such that its two-seat configuration is also suitable for transitioning pilots to more advanced jet-powered mounts while covering aviation fundamentals and weapons delivery education through a more compact, low-cost end-product. The AT-6 shares some 85% commonality of parts with the original T-6 II platform, making it logistically-friendly for existing T-6 II supporters.
The AT-6 features a crew of two seated in tandem under a large, largely unobstructed canopy located at the center of the design. The engine - a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68D turboprop engine outputting at 1,600 horsepower - is mounted at the extreme front end of the slim fuselage driving a four-bladed propeller assembly. The downward-sloping nature of the nose assembly allows for excellent vision out of the cockpit and wings are low-set against the fuselage. Each straight appendage sits at the center of the fuselage length and is cleared to carry a variable stores set - primarily gun pods (12.7mm heavy machine gun), cannon pods (20mm automatic), rocket pods (unguided and laser-guided) and small conventional/laser-guided drop bombs (250lb/500lb) across its six (MIL-STD-1760) external hardpoints (four are plumbed for external fuel stores and seven total hardpoints are available). Unlike some other light strike aircraft designs the AT-6 supports laser-guided missiles. The empennage is relatively short, home to a single clipped vertical tail fin and low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage is of a tricycle arrangement and fully retractable. Range of this compact aircraft is listed at 2,895 kilometers (1,563 nautical miles).
The entire AT-6 weapons suite includes support for many US- and NATO-standard munitions: Mk 81 General-Purpose Bomb, Mk 82 General-Purpose Bomb, GBU-12 "Paveway II", GBU-49 "Enhanced Paveway II", GBU-58 "Paveway II", GBU-59 "Enhanced Paveway II" bombs. Missile support is limited to the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile. As one of the few current aircraft to support laser-guided rockets, the AT-6 handles APKWS, TALON and GATR series 2.75" guided rocket types. Practice bombs can be used for weapons training.
Internally, the cockpit features three large multi-function displays (MFDs) that can be customized to suit pilot/co-pilot needs through the CMC Glass Cockpit and Flight Management System. A moving map display is listed as standard, a fighter aircraft-style HUD (Head-Up Display) is included and the cockpit is compatible with available night vision equipment. The mission systems suite is presented by defense powerhouse Lockheed Martin and based on the architecture developed for the A-10C (upgraded A-10 Thunderbolt II with "Precision Engagement" package). The pilot's helmet is integrated into the Scorpion Helmet-Mounted Cueing System which allows for marking of targets. Flight controls are of an F-16-style HOTAS (Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick) arrangement. Communications includes SATCOM and a protected voice and data link. The cockpit supplies full GPS navigation, GPS precision approach and digital terrain elevation data. Base defensive systems include a countermeasures package and missile (IR) warning indicator. The cockpit, fuel stores and engine compartment are protected through a light armor arrangement while each crewmember is granted a Martin Baker MKUS16LA 0/0 series ejection seat for worst-case scenarios.
Beechcraft markets the AT-6 for use in training (piloting and attack, joint exercise), irregular warfare (CAS, FAC, AR, strike coordination, armed interdiction, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)), homeland defense (patrol, low-level/low-speed interception, border security) and civilian-minded endeavors (Search & Rescue (SAR), disaster surveillance). Beyond its offensive-minded load out, the AT-6 can also be equipped with targeting and surveillance equipment to broaden its tactical value. Systems include the L-3 Wescam MX-15Di sensor (for ISR work), a full-color daytime camera system, a laser illuminator and a laser rangefinder.
Beechcraft maintains a long-running history in aviation including its military commitments covering an 80+ year history. To date, the concern has produced over 14,500 aircraft including 7,400 alone during World War 2 (1939-1945). Its decades of experience undoubtedly have shaped the refined AT-6.
December 2008 - Iraqi authorities have formally requested procurement of the AT-6 attack platform through a 36-strong order.
October 2017 - The USAF has announced that a pair of AT-6 Wolverine attack aircraft will deploy to Iraq for an operational demonstration under "Combat Dragon III".
February 2018 - The AT-6 remains in contention for the USAF light attack requirement. It faces competition from the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano (detailed elsewhere on this site).
May 2018 - The Wolverine has entered a second round of testing with the USAF over Holloman AFB in New Mexico. It is competing against the Brazilian Super Tucano.
June 2019 - The AT-6 has been showcased at Paris Air Show 2019.
March 2020 - The USAF has added a further two AT-6 examples for its Experimental Light Attack Fleet (ELAF) on March 16th, 2020, bringing the total up to four airframes.
November 2021 - The Royal Thai Air Force has been announced as the first foreign purchaser of the AT-6 Wolverine platform in a deal worth $143 million USD covering eight air frames.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
33.3 ft (10.16 m)
34.1 ft (10.40 m)
10.7 ft (3.25 m)
5,886 lb (2,670 kg)
9,998 lb (4,535 kg)
+4,112 lb (+1,865 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine production variant)
monoplane / low-mounted / straight
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represent the most popular mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are low-mounted along the sides of the fuselage.
The planform involves use of basic, straight mainplane members.
(Structural descriptors pertain to the base Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine production variant)
1 x Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) PT6A-68D turboprop engine developing 1,100 to 1,600 horsepower driving a four-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
Variable: Support for NATO/MIL-STD-1760 munitions across six weaponized hardpoints (of seven total) including rocket pods (guided/unguided), gun pods (12.7mm), cannon pods (20mm), and conventional drop ordnance (unguided/GPS-guided bombs). Up to 4 x external fuel tanks.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 7
Note: Diagram above does not take into account inline hardpoints (mounting positions seated one-behind-the-other).
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