The latest variant of Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, the MQ-8C, has made its first flight, with a short seven minute hop from Point Mugu in California.
The MQ-8C takes the mission systems and sensors developed for the MQ-8B Fire Scout and fits it to a larger airframe based on Bell’s 407 helicopter, which with additional fuel tanks an uprated engine will give the Fire Scout a 12 hour endurance, or the ability to lift a 1180kg payload.
The MQ-8C’s first flight, operated by a ground-based Navy/Northrop Grumman flight test team, took off at 12.05pm local time and was used to validate its autonomous control systems. It was followed by a second, nine-minute flight at 2.39pm.
“First flight is a critical step in maturing the MQ-8C Fire Scout endurance upgrade before using the system operationally next year,” said Capt Patrick Smith, Naval Air Systems Command’s Fire Scout program manager. “The systems we’ve developed to allow Fire Scout to operate from an air-capable ship have already amassed more than 10,000 flight hours with the MQ-8B variant. This system’s evolution enhances how unmanned air systems will support maritime commanders.”
The smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout is based on the Schweizer 330 airframe, while the larger MQ-8C was preceded by the Fire-X concept demonstration program, which saw the first of two unmanned Bell 407-based development aircraft fly in December 2010.
The Royal Australian Navy is understood to have shown some informal interest in Fire Scout for operations of its forthcoming Air Warfare Destroyers and LHD amphibious ships.