The next-generation MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has taken to the air for the first time at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) in California. Built by Northrop Grumman around a Bell 407 helicopter, the MQ-8C is designed to boast twice the endurance and three times the payload capacity of the MQ-8B variant that has clocked up over 5,000 flight hours in Afghanistan.
The maiden flight took place on October 31, with the unmanned helicopter taking off at 12:05 pm and flying for seven minutes in restricted airspace at NBVC to validate the autonomous control system. A second flight lasting nine minutes took off a couple of hours later and saw the aircraft reach an altitude of 500 ft while flying in a pattern around the airfield. A ground-based US Navy/Northrop Grumman flight test team at NBVC controlled the aircraft on both flights.
Sick of Ads?
Join more than 500 New Atlas Plus subscribers who read our newsletter and website without ads.
It's just US$19 a year.More Information
"Operating the MQ-8B Fire Scout from Navy ships has proved extremely successful," says George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman's vice president for medium range tactical systems. "During at-sea deployments, operators saw the need for a system that carried the same intelligence-gathering capabilities of the MQ-8B, but fly longer and carry additional payloads. 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."
In comparison to the MQ-8B, which is based on the Sikorsky Schweizer 333 light piston-powered helicopter and boasts an endurance of over eight hours or the ability to carry payloads of up to 700 lb (320 kg) for short range missions, the MQ-8C is based on the larger commercial airframe of a Bell 407 helicopter and fitted with additional fuel tanks and an upgraded engine, giving it the capability to fly for up to 12 hours or carry a payload of up to 2,600 lb (1,180 kg).
Northrop Grumman is under contract to supply the US Navy with the first eight of 30 planned MQ-8C Fire Scouts that are set to enter service by mid-2014.
Source: Northrop GrummanView gallery - 2 images