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Look Schwartz -- New COIN Plane

UPDATED: Prototype Made First Flight Last Week. Price Tag = $4 Million To $10 Million. Comments From Chief Engineer.

Christian has a really neat piece on a competitor for the COIN plane that Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, says he's probably going to buy. It will be unveiled at the Paris Air Show and we will bring you coverage of it from the show.

The Hawker Beechcraft T-6 is the Air Force’s current primary trainer aircraft. Its maker has proposed a modified plane with machine guns and the ability to carry a variety of PGMs so it would seem a natural candidate for this role. Now they appear to have some interesting opposition in the form of a reconfigured fire fighting plane. Can the white scarf boys buy something this simple?

UPDATE: Since posting this I reached Lee Jackson, chief engineer for Air Tractor. He is the company lead for the 802U. Lee said, as a reader tipped us off, that the State Department has been buying a lesser version of the 802U, one equipped with ballistic glass, armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, since 2002. They are used, Jackson said, for crop eradication efforts. The 802U will be on display at the Paris Air Show but will not fly, Jackson said.

Here's Christian's story:

Call it a kick butt cure for a strong case of "Next-War-itis"...

Sick of F-22s, Ospreys, VH-71s and JSFs? Well, then the Combat Air Truck is the plane for you.

Built by Air Tractor, a premier designer and builder of crop dusting planes, the CAT is set to debut at the Paris Air Show coming up in the middle of this month. Built as a purpose-designed counter insurgency aircraft, the CAT sports extremely short take off and landing capability (150-200 feet) with very long loiter (10 hours with fuel bladders) and plenty of lift to carry rockets, GAUs and pods in expeditionary environments.

A source who's flacking the plane tells me the main benefit is the plane's lack of logistics footprint..."everything can be fixed with a wrench and screwdriver," he said, eliminating the need for expensive spare parts, maintenance bays and teams of techs to keep the thing up and running.

The plane could provide low-cost, long-loiter CAS, convoy escort and FID missions for US troops, allies and contractors flying out of areas as small as battalion -- or even company-level FOBS.

"This is about having breakfast with a convoy commander before launching to provide him with route recon, battlefield overwatch, and if necessary precise and withering fires on anything that gets in the way," my source sent me.

I'm bullish on COIN aircraft and with a USAF chief of staff who's keen on the idea of cheaper, longer loiter, less maintenance intensive aircraft for the current fight and for allies who can't afford $10 million aircraft, this capability is going to be increasingly attractive.

eds. note. I found the following stats on the web.

New Turboprop Gunship Debuts At Paris Air Show

Olney, TEXAS – A new single-engine turboprop utility aircraft prototype makes it debut June 15-21 at the 2009 International Paris Air Show, and will be configured for a military direct fire support role in asymmetrical warfare theatres of operation. The Air Truck AT-802U, manufactured by a division of ag plane manufacturer, Air Tractor, Inc., is being marketed as a versatile aerial platform designed to perform counter-insurgency close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The AT-802U is based on the popular Air Tractor AT-802 ag plane, but has been significantly modified for a light attack capability against fixed, stationary and moving soft targets. The AT-802U will be displayed at the Paris Air Show configured with dual 12.7 mm GAU-19/A three-barrel Gatling guns, M260 rocket launchers, and representative MK-82 bombs. It can also be configured to carry more advanced weapon systems, including the Lockheed Martin Hellfire II, DAGR laser guided rockets, and Sniper XR surveillance and targeting pod systems.

The AT-802U is equipped with the Wulfsberg Flexcomm tactical modular multi-band airborne FM/AM radio communications system. This enables the AT-802U pilot to maintain secure radio communications with practically any radio system utilized by ground units.

An infrared camera and turret system on the AT-802U, with a secure video downlink, allows commanders to see the battle space in real time. The downlink system will be ROVER compatible allowing the aircraft to transmit the live video feed to a joint terminal attack controller on the ground.

The Air Truck AT-802U can also be configured for an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role at low and medium altitudes. Its cockpit-forward payload area is configurable for an auxiliary fuel tank. Additionally, drop tanks can be added on wing/fuselage hard points to enable loiter times of more than ten hours.

The pilot in the AT-802U high-visibility cockpit commands a level of battlespace situational awareness that unmanned aircraft with “soda straw” sensor views simply cannot match. The 802U has the ability to provide a “persistent stare, pervasive knowledge” capability that creates significant advantages for a counter-insurgency force. It can be a communications node for instant command and control with ground forces or other air assets.

The AT-802U is equipped with the AAR-47/ALE-47 countermeasures suite for defense against IR missile threats.

Other features of the AT-802U include: ● Ballistic glass and cockpit armor ● Self-sealing fuel tanks & emergency fuel tank shut-off ● AmSafe Inflatable Restraint system integrated with a 5-point harness ● Crash-worthy airframe ● Oxygen system and air conditioner ● Large and reconfigurable fuel system ● Rough strip low drag landing gear ● Lightning protection

Simple yet rugged design, reliable flight systems, robust electrical system and the proven Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F turbine engine equipped with a high dust environment air induction system, help the AT-802U achieve a low daily operation cost. The aircraft has a very low logistics footprint and requires minimal ground support equipment.

For more information about the Air Truck AT-802U, contact Leland Snow, President or Lee Jackson, Design Engineer at Air Tractor, Inc. Telephone: 940-564-5616. Email: airmail@airtractor.com

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