Cessna CEO Scott Ernest: Company will need help selling the Scorpion

Cessna Aircraft’s involvement in its first modern military jet, the Scorpion, will diversify Cessna’s business, Cessna CEO Scott Ernest said Thursday evening.

“We do know how to design jets,” Ernest said during a speech at a reception kicking off the Kansas Aviation Expo. “There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and pure engineering talent.”

Cessna engineers have been secretly working on the design and prototype during the past two years at Cessna’s Pawnee facility.

The process has helped Cessna learn about composite techniques that can be applied to future products, he said.

Now, “the thing we need is orders,” Ernest said. “We’ll either sell 2,000 of them, or we’ll sell zero.”

The company will need help selling the light jets, designed for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and attack missions.

It will need support from senators and the military, he said.

“We need somebody from the military to stand up and say, ‘This is an economical way to (do missions),” Ernest said.

He’d like to build 2,000 of them in Wichita.

But it’s too soon to say where they will be produced.

“I’m not going to commit to anything,” Ernest said.

If a government commits to buy the planes, “we may have to put some jobs there,” he said.

The plane is being built by a new Textron division, Textron AirLand, a joint venture with AirLand Enterprises. It was introduced last week at the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in National Harbor, Md.

The first flight is scheduled for this year, and low-volume production is slated for 2015.

Testing and early production will be done in Wichita.