Production AT-6 aircraft makes first flight

Washington DC
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The first production Beechcraft AT-6 light attack aircraft made a ceremonial first flight on 20 August in Wichita, Kansas.

The single-engined 1,600shp (1,190kW) Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop aeroplane took to the air at about 10:30 local time with test pilot Lionel Alford at the controls. "It flies great," he says.

The aircraft was loaded with a pair of 66 gal (250 litres) drop tanks, two inert GBU-58 laser-guided bombs and two LAU-131 seven-shot rocket launchers. The AT-6 was also carrying a L-3 Wescam Mx-15Di electro-optical infrared camera.

Although a production aircraft, it is a company-owned asset. Beechcraft has not secured an order for the type.

When asked why the company would fly the first flight with such a heavy load, Derek Hess, the company's senior vice-president for business development, says: "Because it's so easy."

Meanwhile, Hess says that the company is continuing to look at improvements to the AT-6. The aircraft recently demonstrated air-to-air gunnery with .50 caliber machine guns and the potential exists to employ Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinders to counter certain aerial threats.

Russ Bartlett, president of Beechcraft's defence business, says that the AT-6 could incorporate a Lockheed F-35-style large area display in the future.

Beechcraft president Bill Boisture says that while the company has not secured a customer for the AT-6 yet, he expects to sign a customer for the aircraft before the end of 2013.

Beechcraft projects that the market for a light attack aircraft could exceed 500 units over 10 years. There are 26 US allies that could use an aircraft such as the AT-6, Boisture adds. Most of these potential customers would be in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

"We're going to sell a lot of these airplanes," Boisture says.