WASHINGTON — For the first time, the Air Force will test the airworthiness of an aircraft that is currently not planned to be in its inventory, a move that could increase the plane's chance of success in the international market.
The Air Force announced on Wednesday that it had signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Textron AirLand, under which the service will conduct an airworthiness assessment of Textron's Scorpion aircraft. The certification could open the door for future direct commercial sales of the jet to foreign militaries or quicken the pace of a domestic purchase, should the Air Force decide to procure it in the future.
"This is the first of its kind, we have not done a CRADA like this before and we have never had a partnership with industry to assess aircraft that are not under a USAF acquisition contract" Jorge Gonzalez, the Air Force's technical airworthiness authority, said in a statement.
Textron rolled out the Scorpion jet in 2013, marketing it to both US military and international customers as an affordable way to conduct a broad array of missions such as ISR, counter insurgency, close air support and border and maritime security. The plane, which was designed and developed entirely with internal funds, costs only $20 million to acquire and $3,000 per flight hour.
But so far, only one potential customer has bitten: during Farnborough International Airshow last week, Thales and QinetiQ announced plans to use the Scorpion jet for their bid in the UK's Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) competition. Should the firms win the contract, Textron would provide between 10 to 25 jets, while QinetiQ and Thales would do integration, synthetic training, simulation and sensor work.
Textron declined to comment on the significance of the CREDA for potential international sales of the Scorpion, directing all questions to the Air Force.
"Textron AirLand is excited to share this milestone with the United States Air Force as they initiate the first of its kind non-DoD Military Aircraft Airworthiness Assessment," the company said in a statement. "Textron AirLand looks forward to working with the United States Air Force as the Scorpion enters this program."
Gonzalez will be responsible for conducting the assessment, which will verify the safety of the aircraft, the Air Force said. His team will be supported by the Air Force's newly established Non-DoD Military Aircraft (NDMA) office, which will help the service gain "valuable insight" into aviation development and facilitate airworthiness assessments of military aircraft outside the services' programs of record. The NDMA office opened this April at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.