At first glance, it looks like a perfectly normal helicopter.
But Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Fire Scout is missing one key thing – a pilot.
The firm this week showed off the craft taking to sea for the first time – and landing with pinpoint accuracy on a destroyer.
The craft has been stuffed with electronics so it can be flown as a drone – but with all the same capabilities as a normal helicopter.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout is a fully autonomous, fourblade, single-engine unmanned helicopter.
‘It will carry an array of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) sensors to support warfighters’ demands for enhanced situational awareness,’ the firm said.
After more than a year of land-based testing at Point Mugu, California, the MQ-8C Fire Scout has now made 22 takeoffs and 22 precision landings while being controlled from the ship’s ground control station.
‘The MQ-8C Fire Scout’s flights from the USS Dunham represent a significant Navy milestone,’ said said Capt. Jeff Dodge, Fire Scout program manager at Naval Air Systems Command.
‘This is the first sea-based flight of the MQ-8C and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer.
‘The extended capabilities will offer the Navy a dynamic, multipurpose unmanned helicopter with increased endurance, allowing for our ship commanders and pilots to have a longer on station presence.’
George Vardoulakis, vice president for tactical unmanned systems with Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector said, ‘this contract provides significant momentum for the work Northrop Grumman and its supply chain partners are doing to meet the Navy’s requirements.’
The drone is based on a Bell 407 helicopter, which is often used by hospitals, news organizations, movie studios and law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Over 1,000 have been sold, with over 3 million accumulated flight hours – but now it is undergoing a radical conversion.
‘Fire Scout supports both maritime and land-based missions, taking off and landing on aviation-capable warships, and at prepared and unprepared landing zones in proximity to ground troops.
The unmanned systems architecture has accrued more than 7,800 flight hours, with over 5,900 of those hours flown operationally from ships and on land.
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