Northrop Grumman has revealed the Firebird, an optionally piloted intelligence gathering aircraft, designed to operate up to four ISR and communications payloads simultaneously through a universal interface, and pitched at the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAS market.
Northrop Grumman developed the Firebird’s unmanned systems architecture, control and mission systems, while Scaled Composites designed, built and tested the aircframe, which features a twin boom design and is powered by a Lycoming TEO-540 piston engine.
Developed in secret, the Firebird’s maiden flight was over a year ago in February 2010, but Northrop Grumman intends to showcase the aircraft in an piloted demonstration at this year’s Empire Challenge 2011 – a military exercise run by the US Joint Forces Command between May 23 and June 3.
“Military users will also find it much easier to exploit intelligence data from Firebird because the information is put into a single tool that allows them to easily make decisions,” Firebird program manager Rick Crooks noted.
“The internal payload bay also does away with the need to carry external pods to house sensor payloads that can cause drag and affect how long the aircraft can stay in the air.”
The 19.8m span, 10.3m long, 2270kg MTOW Firebird has a 24 to 40 hour endurance, depending on configuration, and cruises at around 200kt. The optionally manned design would give military operators greater flexibility in transiting civilian airspace.