The Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

Last week, Textron AirLand flew its prototype Scorpion Jet for the first time.  The first flight lasted 1.4 hours and concentrated mostly on slow-speed handling.  We took advantage of the occasion to talk to Bill Anderson (president of Textron AirLand and SVP of Cessna Military Business Development) and Dale Tutt (the Scorpion program chief engineer).  This episode contains the full interview covering everything from the aircraft generally to the development process to the first flight.  And we talked about the plans to market and build the production version.

Apart from the interview, my impressions are as follows.

Somewhere among the capabilities of  aircraft like the the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, the A-10 Thunderbold II (Warthog) attack aircraft, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet series multi-role fighters, there’s a gap that Textron AirLand wants to fill.  A manned cockpit to provide local eyes (both human and electronic) on targets.  The ability to fly both low and in the flight levels.  Slow-speed performance to support imaging  missions and small-aircraft intercept.  Fuel efficiency to allow longer flights out and back with mission-enabling loiter time over the target.  And plug-and-play capability that allows rapid configuration for different mission types.  If the Scorpion Jet turns out to be everything it was designed to be, it will fill all of those gaps and more.

It looks like an A-10, an F/A-18, and an F-8 Crusader somehow conspired to jointly have offspring.   It has a payload bay in the belly and will have six hard points (two wet), plus enough electrical power and auxiliary wiring to  handle the instrumentation and weaponry to support widely-varied missions.  Anderson and Tutt say that test pilot Dan Hinson reported that it was fun to fly.  (Yeah, I asked.)

Beyond functionality, Textron AirLand wants to deliver a jet that’s economical to acquire and operate.  If the company’s business case pans out, it will be able to deliver copies for less than $20 million each.  For reference, a new A-10 in 1994 went for $19 million in 2013 dollars and a new MQ-1 Predator went for just over $4 million in 2010.  (Although it’s a little far afield to bring fighters into the comparison, let’s just note that a legacy F/A-18A/B/C Hornet started at around $34 million in 2013 dollars without the floor mats and mag wheels.)  

The company says that the hourly cost to operate is likely to be around $3,000.  Comparable with a C-130 or a helicopter if you buy NORAD’s numbers.  There’s really nothing cheaper unless you count a CAP aircraft (about $130 per flying hour and great for what CAP does, but not very useful for putting warheads on foreheads or launching or operating the heavier sensor packages).

This is a US-based project.  The design and build came together here in the states, mostly in Wichita.  It remains to be seen if the production copies are built here in the states.  It would be nice to see an all-American aircraft in this role.  Being fond of the T-6A/B and having time in the T-6A, it hurt a little when Hawker Beechcraft was shut out of the USAF Light Air Support (LAS) process in favor of the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, even though the Super T will be built in Jacksonville.

Lastly, this aircraft appeals to me because I’m a pilot.  I know that it takes certain skill to fly a UAV.  And I know that there are missions that don’t make sense for manned aircraft.  But, at the end of the day, no automated system will ever equal a pilot’s eyeballs, hands, feet, and heart in the cockpit over the battlefield.  When it really matters, you want a pilot in the ship and the Scorpion Jet is one of an increasingly scarce number of platforms that leverage our favorite stick-throttle interconnect: The pilot.

Textron AirLand is continuing flight test operations and is actively courting customers.  We’ll stay close to the story and bring you updates as they occur.

In the meantime, there’s more information about the Scorpion Jet at

 Photo courtesy Textron.


Sequestration: Remarks by Rep Sam Graves – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

I thought about doing a post about sequestration and its effects, but ICAS made that unnecessary by bringing Rep. Sam Graves to the podium this morning prior to the keynote.

Graves is the US Representative for Missouri’s 6th congressional district, serving since 2001. The district consists of Northwest Missouri and includes the portion of Kansas City north of the Missouri River and many northern suburbs. He is a member of the House General Aviation Caucus.

There’s not much more that I can add to this, so I thought that I’d simply put up the remarks so that you can hear them directly.

Inside Airshows – Part 3: Tuskegee 3 – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

If you want to understand a subculture or an experience, a great way to do that is to take an outsider and plunge him into the place you want to know about, wait awhile, then drag him back to the surface and wring him out to see how it changed him.  It’s even better if you can get the guy to wring himself out.  You begin to realize that not everybody who writes about the majesty of flight does it because he’s a fighter pilot.  Some of us write because we’re not fighter pilots.

You also need to talk about the world in its own terms, using the lexicon of the world, sometimes without explaining the vocabulary to the uninitiated, except maybe through context.  If you’re a pilot, you’ll understand most of this.  If you’re not a pilot, that’s okay, because you’ll feel a little of the strangeness of this world and you’ll put it together in context and in realtime.  Just like I did.  In some ways, you’re in for a better ride than the pilots.

There are three things you need to know about me.

First, I’m a pretty average Joe.  I’m 46.  By any reasonable estimation, my life is more than half over.  I live in the suburbs.  I have a wife and two kids.  I run the rat race every day about as well as the next guy.  You wouldn’t recognize me if you ran into me in the grocery store.

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Second, I always wanted to be an astronaut.

Third, I realized a few years ago that it was entirely up to me where between that baseline and that dream I would live each day of the rest of my life.


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Listen to this.

[ICAS hall noise.]

This is the sound of a magical zone in spacetime.  It’s a room with about 60,000 square feet of floor space.  It’s at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I don’t know what happens in that room for the other 361 days each year.  I’m not even sure that this room  exists for the other 361 days of the year.  But, for four days each December, it’s filled wall to wall with just about every airshow performer who’s active anywhere in the us and Canada.  This is the exhibit hall at the International Council of Air Shows annual convention.

Standing at the back of the hall facing the doors way across the room, the Thunderbirds and the other Air Force TAC DEMO and static display pilots and leadership are off to the left against the far wall.  The Blue Angels and the rest of the Navy and Marine Corps contingent are on the opposite wall.  The Snowbirds are in the middle on this side.  Sean Tucker, Mike Goulian, Skip Stewart, Patty Wagstaff, Bill Stein, Rob Holland, Billy Werth, Greg Koontz, Kent Pietsch, Andy Anderson, Bob Carlton, Gene Soucy, Scooter Yoak, Team Aerodynamix, John Klatt . . . every one of them is in this room right now.  Hanging out.  Booking next year’s appearances. Swapping stories.  Doing whatever superheroes do when they get together each year between seasons. [Read more...]

Inside Airshows – Part 2: With a Mic in My Hand – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

A narrator can make or break an airshow act.  Especially for an audience that doesn’t understand what it’s seeing.

You’ve heard me say it before.  John Mohr, Greg Koontz, Kent Pietsch, and others cast pearls before swine.  I don’t mean to sound rude or elitist.  It’s just true.  Most of the audience has no idea how difficult some of those maneuvers are.  You and I know that it’s very often not how fast but how slow, and not how high but how low, that is the really amazing thing about an airshow performance.

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If the announcer isn’t there telling the crowd  what to look for, there’s no way they’ll get it.  Take John Mohr.  He rolls a stock Stearman inverted low to the ground.  He holds it there until the engine sputters and eventually quits from fuel exhaustion.  The Stearman has a very slow roll rate.  If John doesn’t do a lot of things right – and immediately – he’ll make contact with the ground inverted in an open-cockpit aircraft.  He has to know without a doubt that he can get the aircraft rolled upright in time to either get the engine restarted or land on the wheels. [Read more...]

Inside Airshows – Part 1: Running Away to Join the Circus – Audio Episode Show Notes


These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

There are three things you need to know about yourself.  Who you are, what you want to be, and, if there’s a difference between the two, what you’re going to do about that difference every day for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, the act of answering those questions creates a change that alters who you are in profound ways.  I answered those questions in 1998 after I watched the Tom-Hanks-produced HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.  Being honest, the answers were (1) law student and soon-to-be-lawyer, (2) astronaut, and (3) – well, what?

Shortly after passing the bar and beginning law practice, I decided to look into flight training.  Even knowing that becoming an astronaut was a non-starter, being the pilot in command of an aircraft was a pretty good step in that direction and it gave me most of what I needed in the way of inspiration.

It wasn’t long after becoming a pilot and beginning to add additional ratings and endorsements that I began to regularly go to airshows.  The desire to get close to airshows largely spawned the podcast to which you’re now listening, still active more than seven years and 200 episodes later.

I’ve been in the photo pit and on the ramp and actually inside the airshow box during shows for years.  I remain thankful to Roger Bishop, Patti Mitchell, Brett Bailey, and others at airshows from Battle Creek to Indy and otherwise for truly wonderful access.

But the perspective that I had, and that I conveyed, was that of a fan.  There’s nothing wrong with being a fan.  But I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to know what it was like to be a part of the show.  To get so close to the performers, the crews, the air boss, the announcer, and the others who actually put on a show that I could tell a real story from that perspective. [Read more...]