Unmanned Naval Helicopter

Northrop Grumman Corporation
Redondo Beach, CA

The U.S. Navy has been conducting ship-board flight testing of the first operational MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter delivered by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. After more than a year of land-based testing conducted at Point Mugu, California, the MQ-8C took its first flight off the deck of the guided-missile destroyer, USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), off the coast of Virginia in mid-December last year. It marked the first time an unmanned helicopter had ever operated from the deck of a U.S. Navy destroyer. All told, the new Fire Scout made 22 takeoffs and precision landings during its first sea trials, all while being controlled from the ship’s ground control station. According to George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for medium range tactical systems, the test program will run throughout the summer of 2015 and if all goes well, the aircraft should be operational by the end of the year.

The MQ-8C is an upgraded version of the MQ-8B Fire Scout, which has logged more than 14,000 flight hours and 5,300 sorties while being deployed on the Navy’s frigates and littoral combat ships. The MQ-8C, which is based on the FAA-certified Bell 407 commercial helicopter, features a larger airframe than the MQ-8B and it can fly twice as long and carry three times more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance payloads. Powered by a Rolls- Royce 250-C47E engine with dual channel full authority digital engine control, the MQ-8C has a top speed of 135 knots, a maximum ceiling of 16,000 feet, an internal payload capacity of 500 lbs., a maximum sling load of 2,650 lbs., maximum endurance of 12 hrs., and a maximum range of 1,227 nautical miles.

Northrop Grumman is under contract with the Navy to build a total of 19 MQ-8C Fire Scout helicopters, including two for testing purposes. All told, the Navy hopes to acquire 70 units.

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