Scorpion Out Of Air Force Trainer Bidding

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The future role of Textron Airland's Scorpion trainer/light attack jet is in question now that the Air Force is saying the bid requirements for its new jet trainer are firm. A few years ago, Textron, in partnership with Airland Enterprises, secretly developed a small twin-engine military aircraft that has been touted as an affordable front-line attack aircraft and a modern, low-cost trainer. It now appears the Air Force wants a much more capable training platform and Textron Airland has all but withdrawn from the competition for 350 new trainers. The Air Force is still using the T-38 Talon as its primary jet trainer and the oldest aircraft are more than 50 years old. The Air Force wants airplanes that will train pilots for fifth-generation fighters like the F-35 and F-22 and Textron Airland admits those requirements are out of the Scorpion's league. "We can't. We don't have an aircraft right now that would compete," Textron Airland President Bill Anderson told Defense News in February. At that time, the company was hoping the Air Force would change its requirements but Defense News reported Monday that the program, known as the T-X, was set and would require a sophisticated and powerful platform.

Among the requirements are a high sustained G load and the type of handling and performance that dictate an expensive fly-by-wire control system. Raytheon is partnering with Finmeccanica and CAE to offer the T-100 and Lockheed Martin will bid with the T-50A in cooperation with Korea Aerospace Industries. Boeing and Saab are teaming up and Northrop Grumman is heading up a consortium that includes BAE Systems and L2 for clean-sheet designs. The first aircraft aren't expected for almost a decade and the T-38 will soldier on until then. Some of the airframes will be 70 years old by the time they're retired. Meanwhile, Textron Airland says there are other markets for the Scorpion as a trainer and as a light attack aircraft but it hasn't found a launch customer yet.