While sophisticated, supersonic stealth fighters like the American F-22 Raptor and the upcoming F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are crucial for penetrating enemy airspace or engaging in strikes against a technologically sophisticated foe, most air forces — including the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard — spend most of their flight hours performing more mundane tasks. Routine air patrols, training flights, ISR missions (that’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), and air intercept (defense of restricted airspace and the like) are far more common than combat sorties.
Currently, the U.S. and other well-heeled military powers use their high-end fighter jets to fly these routine missions. Less affluent militaries often buy high-end turboprop aircraft to conduct ISR and other flights, and many eschew owning a fleet of expensive jet fighters altogether.
But in tight fiscal times neither of these scenarios is a truly economical solution. Turboprops aren’t well-suited to the heavy ISR payloads necessary to conduct modern surveillance and recon missions, and the F-15s and F-16s the Air Force uses (or their foreign counterparts) are highly sophisticated aerial defense platforms — overkill for these kinds of routine tasks. F-16s cost roughly $25,000 per flight hour to operate whether in a combat role or in a routine airspace patrol, and the F-35s of the future fleet could cost significantly more.
That’s where Textron sees value in an aircraft like the Scorpion that’s more capable than a turboprop and less costly than a top-of-the-line fighter jet model. With an estimated cost-per-flight-hour of roughly $3,000, the jet would consume a fraction of the operating cost of an F-16 for routine missions. And while Textron-AirLand hasn’t released pricing information yet, the per-unit cost is expected to be “multiple times less per copy” than a traditional jet, says Textron spokesman David Sylvestre.
Textron AirLand, LLC, a joint venture between Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) and AirLand Enterprises, LLC, today announced that the Scorpion Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike aircraft completed its first flight at 10:30 AM Central Time.
The aircraft took off from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas and conducted a range of handling maneuvers for approximately 1.4 hours of flight. Today’s flight marks one of the fastest developments of a U.S.-built tactical jet, progressing from initial design to first flight in less than 24 months.