WASHINGTON Oct 31 A larger and more powerful
version of Northrop Grumman Corp's Fire Scout unmanned
helicopter made its first two flights on Thursday, the U.S. Navy
said as it plans to start using the new aircraft next year.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout took off and flew for 7 minutes in its
first flight at Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu,
California, the Navy and Northrop said in news releases. It
reached an altitude of 500 feet (152 meters) and flew 9 minutes
during a second flight.
Northrop said it had developed the new Fire Scout in just
one year, much faster than normally seen in U.S. weapons
"It is a big accomplishment for the integrated government
and industry team to fly this air vehicle for the first time,"
Captain Patrick Smith, the Navy's Fire Scout program manager,
said in a release issued by the Navy.
He said the Navy would need fewer of the new surveillance
helicopters since they had a longer range and could stay
airborne longer. He said that would help meet urgent needs
spelled out by the U.S. Africa and Special Operation commands.
Northrop said the new version of the Fire Scout was designed
to fly twice as long and carry three times as many sensors and
other equipment as the current MQ-8B variant, which is on its
seventh at-sea deployment for the Navy, supporting antipiracy
missions on board Navy frigates.
The unmanned helicopter has also been used extensively in
Afghanistan since early 2011 to provide surveillance data to
Retired Admiral Gary Roughead, the former chief of naval
operations who authorized operational use of the first Fire
Scout two years earlier than planned, welcomed news about the
larger aircraft's first flight.
"Even though we got a lot out of the first Fire Scout, the
bigger airplane with the increased attributes is going to be
very important," Roughead said.
He said the helicopter could operate from a large number of
Navy ships with smaller flight decks, giving commanders greater
range and awareness.
Based on a larger commercial airframe with additional fuel
tanks and an upgraded engine, the MQ-8C will be able to fly up
to 12 hours or carry up to 2,600 pounds (1,180 kg), Northrop
George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman's vice president for
medium-range tactical systems, said Northrop developed a bigger
version of the Fire Scout after Navy operators asked for a
system that could fly longer and carry more sensors.
"Changing out the airframe, installing control systems and
avionics, and then conducting a first flight of the system in a
year is truly remarkable," Vardoulakis said.