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​Textron AirLand's Scorpion, shown here, is one of three aircraft invited to participate in the Air Force's OA-X light attack aircraft experiment at Holloman AFB, N.M. Textron photo.

—Adam J. Hebert

Le Bourget, France—The Air Force will soon begin flight-testing the aircraft participating in its OA-X light attack aircraft experiment at Holloman AFB, N.M. Whether OA-X becomes an acquisition program of record or not, and whether a Textron aircraft wins this by-no-means-assured contract or not, company officials are clearly pleased the Air Force chose to invite two of the company’s products to the experiment.

Textron’s Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine and the Textron AirLand Scorpion were both invited to participate in the OA-X experiment, along with the Sierra Nevada/Embraer Super Tucano.

The AT-6 is a derivative of the tried-and-true T-6 trainer with added hardpoints and weapons options. Textron officials said the AT-6 is 80 percent common with more than a thousand T-6s, and it is a platform many nations and pilots already know well.

But it was the Scorpion Textron brought to the Paris Air Show. Three production versions exist (in addition to the developmental airframe at Le Bourget), one of which is presently undergoing gun testing, officials said. Scorpion is a twin-engined, clean-sheet design the company built as a low-cost option for nations looking for a jet trainer and/or light attack platform, also capable of flying intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and patrol missions.

Bill Harris, Textron’s vice president for Scorpion sales, told Air Force Magazine the company can’t beat the international exposure the nascent Scorpion program will receive through the OA-X experiment and the company is, of course, hoping this will lead to sales.

In the abstract, both of Textron’s two seat OA-X offerings seem to check all of the Air Force’s boxes, as does the Super Tucano. They are all available now, offer low purchase and operating costs, and can serve as trainers, operational “seasoning” aircraft for young pilots, and as attack platforms in low threat environments.

A new platform could theoretically take some of the pressure off of the A-10, F-16, and F-15E communities—and the airframes—as the Air Force struggles to get enough pilots into its cockpits while its legacy fighters still pile on flying hours. Air Force leadership has expressed considerable interest in all of this.

Lisa Disbrow, then-acting Air Force Secretary, said in March USAF wants to see “if there’s a business case” for a low-end attack aircraft. The other half of the OA-X equation is that a new light attack aircraft could help USAF “absorb new pilots” on a common platform “with allies and partners,” Disbrow said.

“We would use [the light attack airplane] as a place to season young fighter pilots quickly,” Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, recently told Air Force Magazine.

“We need to absorb fighter pilots,” Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, USAF’s senior uniformed acquisition official, said at an AFA breakfast in March. “I need everybody to show me what they can do.”

But first things first. OA-X is still just an experiment, though clearly one the Air Force leadership is highly interested in. The participating contractors will receive detailed, confidential OA-X outbriefs from the Air Force when the experiment is over, providing feedback from both test and operational pilots “on how they saw it [and] how it performed,” said Textron’s Harris.

Ultimately, though, it’s an honor just to be invited. “You can’t top the exposure,” Harris said.