Northrop rolls out bigger Firebird variant

Northrop Grumman held the first flight of a two-seat variant of its Firebird medium-altitude, optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) on Nov. 12 in Mojave, Calif., for an unidentified customer, reports Aviation Week.

The production-ready variant, which is 30 percent larger than the Firebird demonstrator unveiled in 2011, includes a second seat that was added at the customer's request and would allow for a copilot or a sensor operator, the story said.

If not being operated in piloted mode, the Firebird UAV is designed to be commanded by an operator using a ground station to fly the aircraft either in line-of-sight or beyond-LOS unmanned modes.

Interest in the Firebird OPV was substantial at Empire Challenge 2011, Northrop Grumman officials say, when the Army and Northrop Grumman tested several key payloads including electro-optic/infrared, radar and a communications relay. Altogether the company has flown 12 different payloads on the medium-altitude OPV.

Although the Army hosted the Firebird at Empire Challenge, the U.S. Special Operations Command has expressed an intersest in the OPV, the story said.

The initial production contract with the unnamed customer calls for assembly of two vehicles per year for the next five years, the story said.

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