Navy Fire Scout crashes during Libya operations

Investigation launched in effort to determine cause

A U.S. unmanned helicopter crashed June 21 while undertaking a reconnaissance mission as part of NATO’s continuing air campaign against Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, reports Defense News.

The MQ-8B Fire Scout that went down is just one of a wide spectrum of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms deployed by NATO forces to build up a “knowledge base” about Qaddafi’s forces as the three-month-old conflict drags on, according to NATO sources.

NATO has launched an investigation in an effort to determine the cause of the crash.

The U.S. Navy plans to buy as many as 200 MQ-8s, but at present has only a small number of the $10-million, 24-foot-long unmanned rotary aircraft in “operational testing” in combat zones, notes David Axe of Wired’s Danger Room blog. Built by Northrop Grumman Corp., the Fire Scout has a sensor package that includes electro-optical/infrared and laser-designation capabilities.

The Fire Scout is slowly building a resume. One Fire Scout participated with the USS McInerney in a drug bust in waters off Latin America in 2010, and two others were used earlier this year in counter-piracy patrols aboard the frigate USS Halyburton around the Horn of Africa, according to the Danger Room blog. In April, the Navy sent three MQ-8s to Afghanistan.

A nationally publicized malfunction of a Fire Scout undergoing a test flight out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., occurred in August 2010. After having lost communications with its ground station, the errant unmanned aircraft proceeded into restricted airspace 40 miles away from Washington, D.C., according to Aviation Week.

Rather than take up a holding pattern as it was programmed to do, a software glitch resulted in the errant unmanned helicopter entering the restricted airspace.

That incident prompted a short testing pause so that developers could address the nature of the problem.

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