WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, OH. --- The Air Force will put light attack planes through aerial paces this summer over the New Mexico desert as aerospace makers hope to land a future deal.
The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base managed test flights will explore what’s available, the cost to buy, operate and maintain the plane, if it can be mass produced quickly and exported to other countries.
Contractors have a deadline Friday to submit proposals for the OA-X, as the experimental light attack plane is called, but the Air Force says it will not immediately release the names of the companies.
Cheaper to fly?
The Air Force will investigate if it’s feasible and cheaper to build a commercial “off-the-shelf” light attack plane by the hundreds to fly into less heavily defended air space at less cost compared to flying more expensive jets, such as fast moving F-16 Fighting Falcons, to do the same job, said Jack Blackhurst, director of the Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Directorate at Wright-Patterson.
“We don’t think this mission is going to go away anytime soon and so there’s going to be a need for this kind of activity, close air support, for some time,” he added. “It’s really a cost argument.”
Textron AirLand was expected to enter the Scorpion jet and sister company Beechcraft has indicated it will enter the AT-6 Wolverine for flight tests, according to a spokeswoman.
Other companies will likely jump in. “We’re expecting three or four players to play but there could be many more,” said Blackhurst, a retired Air Force colonel.
Aerospace manufacturers will be in a potential high stakes face-off.
“It’s pay to play,” Blackhurst said. “They have to bring their airplanes to Holloman Air Force Base (in New Mexico) and then we’re going to run through a series of …close air support missions where we will have our pilots actually flying those planes.”
Test flights will take flight over the summer. In the future, the plane was expected to be tested overseas. Results will reach Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein at the end of the experiment.
A decision on what’s next was targeted by the end of the year. “This isn’t a fly-off, it’s not a competition, there’s no down select involved here at all,” he said. “It’s just tell me the data. What’s out there that could work.” (end of excerpt)
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