The Textron AirLand Scorpion doesn't yet have a buyer, but that hasn't stopped the plane from taking part in a major National Guard training exercise this week. (Textron)
WASHINGTON — The Textron AirLand Scorpion doesn’t yet have a buyer, but that hasn’t stopped the plane from taking part in a major National Guard training exercise this week.
Billed as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) plane with strike capabilities, the jet provided live video feed during Vigilant Guard 2014, which brought several Guard units to Kansas to run through various emergency scenarios.
A non-Guard plane as part of a major exercise? That’s “a first for me,” said Paul Weaver, a former head of the Air National Guard who is now an advisor on the Scorpion program.
So why was Scorpion allowed to participate? For one thing, the company picked up the tab, Weaver said.
It also helped that Kansas is the Scorpion team’s home state. Weaver said that the state’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, was aware of the plane sitting in his backyard and had been briefed on its capabilities.
Both the Guard and Textron benefit from Scorpion’s participation. The Guard gets full-motion video of the proceedings, as if a company funded overhead video at the Super Bowl and gave it to the television network covering the game – no downside and a better product. In the first two days of the exercise, Scorpion logged over seven hours of mission activity, which largely focused on providing streaming overwatch video to commanders on the ground, Weaver said.
Textron, meanwhile, gets a unique stage to show off the jet’s ISR capabilities. Company executives believe the jet fits the mixed Title 10 and Title 32 requirements for the Guard, and have made no secret that they see the Guard as a potential customer base.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better. Not only have we talked about the Scorpion being on the cutting edge of ISR capability, but also the cost,” Weaver said.
He said flying costs average around $2,700 an hour.
“So it was mutually beneficial, because we wanted to see what we needed to do and prove what we said we could do, and we have done well beyond that in just these short three days,” Weaver said. “We’re extremely satisfied and happy with what we have.”
Still, there are risks in sending the only copy of a new jet to a major exercise whose audience includes adjutant generals from several states and Gen. Charles Jacoby, the head of US Northern Command.
“What if it was a disaster? What if it didn’t perform? Then you’re talking about pushing a wet noodle uphill,” Weaver said with a laugh. “But that shows the confidence we had in the airplane and the ISR capability we are putting on. You’re rolling the dice, but we were confident that we could really do a great job.”
Weaver said that the Textron team would be happy to support more such exercises.
“I truly believe that we will be invited many more times over future exercises,” he said.
It’s been a long, if seemingly successful, summer for the Scorpion program. The jet, unveiled less than a year ago, made the trip to the United Kingdom for a pair of major airshows there. A number of foreign military leaders, as well as US dignitaries like Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, stopped by to visit the plane and talk with Textron officials.
The next stop on the Scorpion publicity tour? Unsurprisingly, the team will have a strong presence at the National Guard Association of the U.S. (NGAUS) conference, running August 22-25 in Chicago. The jet itself won’t go due to logistical issues, but there will be a model and booth.
That will be followed in September at the Air Force Association conference outside of Washington, D.C. Weaver says the company has reached agreement to host the Scorpion jet at Reagan-National Airport, a short car trip from the conference, and is setting up viewing tours for top service officials and NATO air chiefs.