Most of us wouldn’t immediately think of Textron Aviation as a purveyor of military airplanes. Instead, most general aviation pilots think of Bonanzas, Skyhawks, and Citations. Truth is, there’s a long tradition of Textron producing military airplanes.

Photography by Mike Fizer

For example, in the 1950s Beechcraft built the T–34 Mentor trainer, and Cessna made the T–37 Tweet trainer and L–19/O–1 Bird Dog and O-2 Skymaster reconnaissance platforms. And in the 1960s the Bonanza A36 became the foundation for the Air Force’s unique QU–22 (see “The Bonanza Goes to War,” September 2014 AOPA Pilot). Today, Textron’s Defense and Special Missions division makes three military airplanes: the Scorpion, a surveillance twinjet (“Special Op,” July 2018 AOPA Pilot Turbine Edition); the T–6 Texan II primary trainer; and the AT–6 Wolverine light attack/armed reconnaissance aircraft.

The Wolverine has recently been in the news. The U.S. Air Force has been looking for a new, more cost-effective aircraft that can serve both surveillance and light attack roles, and be forward-based at unimproved airstrips. Sure, airplanes like the A–10 Warthog, F–16 Fighting Falcon, or F–35 Lightning could fulfill the attack mission, but these cost tens of thousands of dollars per hour to operate and would be overkill for most surveillance missions. The Wolverine design, with its single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68 turboprop engine, costs one tenth as much. It’s optimized for what has come to be called an “armed overwatch” capability of the sort that’s needed in remote areas where ongoing conflict is the norm. To use a colloquialism, the Wolverine is tailored for the day-to-day combat requirement to “fly around, look at stuff, and occasionally blow things up.” That sounds like a skillset that might appeal to any pilot, so I went to Wichita and paid a visit to Textron’s Wolverine team.

Read more at AOPA.

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