The MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter made its first flight, actually two flights, at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Magu, Calif., on Oct. 31. The goal was to validate the autonomous control systems of the MQ-8C. The Northrop Grumman and U.S. Navy test was a step forward for the next-generation MQ-8C.
“First flight is a critical step in maturing the MQ-8C Fire Scout endurance upgrade before using the system operationally next year.”
The MQ-8C took off at 12:05 p.m. and flew for seven minutes. A second flight took off at 2:39 p.m. and flew for nine minutes, while reaching an altitude of 500 feet. “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, Fire Scout program manager at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
A Navy/Northrop Grumman flight test team, that was also based at Naval Base Ventura County, controlled the MQ-8C. “It is a big accomplishment for the integrated government and industry team to fly this air vehicle for the first time,” said Smith.
“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.”
The MQ-8C is an evolution of the MQ-8B Fire Scout that is currently combating piracy while serving on its seventh at-sea deployment aboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58). “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,” said Smith. The larger MQ-8C has been designed to fly twice as long and carry three times the payload of the MQ-8B. Able to fly up to 12 hours or carry up to 2,600 pounds, the MC-8C employs an airframe based on a larger commercial Bell 407 helicopter that has been modified to carry additional fuel tanks, and also has an upgraded engine. “This system’s evolution enhances how unmanned air systems will support maritime commanders,” said Smith.
The success of the MQ-8B, and high demand, has spurred the development of the MQ-8C. “Operating the MQ-8B Fire Scout from Navy ships has proved extremely successful. During at-sea deployments, operators saw the need for a system that carried the same intelligence-gathering capabilities of the MQ-8B, but [could] fly longer and carry additional payloads,” said George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for medium range tactical systems. The MQ-8C program has come together in a relatively short amount of time. “Changing out the airframe, installing control systems and avionics, and then conducting a first flight of the system in a year is truly remarkable. I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” said Vardoulakis.
“Changing out the airframe, installing control systems and avionics, and then conducting a first flight of the system in a year is truly remarkable. I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”
Initial shipboard testing aboard guided-missile destroyers is scheduled. The Navy is also looking at using the MQ-8C aboard littoral combat ships. Lessons from the MQ-8B are also being applied to the MQ-8C. “MQ-8C will require fewer aircraft [than the MQ-8B] to operate at maximum performance and will meet the U.S. Africa and Special Operation Command‘s urgent needs requirement,” said Smith. Northrop Grumman has been contracted by the Navy to build the first eight of 30 planned MQ-8Cs.