UAS & Robotics

Navy's Fire Scout drone helicopter passes its latest test

Navy Northrop Fire Scout UAS

The MQ-8C Fire Scout completes a test flight at the Point Mugu Sea Range.

The Navy’s unmanned rotary wing MQ-8C Fire Scout recently conducted a successful land-based operational assessment at the Point Mugu Sea Range at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., demonstrating the improved endurance and sensor integration capacities of its new airframe.  

Fire Scout contractor Northrop Grumman announced the demonstration, which took place Nov. 20, adding that the aircraft collected real-time data points. Over a three-week period, the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-1 performed all flights totaling 83.4 hours of flight with 72 data points.

“MQ-8C represents a significant capability improvement to the fleet,” said Capt. Jeff Dodge, the Naval Air Systems Command’s program manager for Fire Scout. “Testing has shown the system is meeting or exceeding our goals and the completion of this test event represents a major step on the road to fleet introduction.”

The MQ-8C is the newest variant of the original MQ-8B Fire Scout. The upgrade “provide[s] longer endurance, range and greater payload capability than the MQ-8B,” according to the Naval Air Systems Command. The newer variant also is faster and can fly higher than the MQ-8B and during the summer set a new endurance record, flying for over 10 hours and covering 150 nautical miles.

The Fire Scout, which is launched from Guided Missile Frigates and the Littoral Combat Ship, has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as East Africa to make up for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance shortfalls.

Sensors and systems were tested at various altitudes and ranges during the recent demonstration in order to validate operational effectiveness of the MQ-8C, Northrop said. An improved ice detector system was validated, allowing for necessary altitude corrections by descending the aircraft until indication cleared in order for the mission to resume its target detection runs.   

“As demonstrated in the test, Fire Scout's multi-INT capability and endurance, coupled with outstanding reliability are changing the way intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are measured; we have significantly raised the bar,” said Leslie Smith, Fire Scout program director for Northrop Grumman. 

Milestone C for the aircraft will commence next year following developmental flight tests earlier this year, the contractor said. The MQ-8C has accrued over 730 flight hours, flying 353 sorties, Northrop added. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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