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MQ-8B Fire Scout

Fire Scout is the Navy's vehicle take-off unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV), which is programmed to deploy aboard the Littoral Combat Ship and become operational in FY 09. During the summer of 2005 the Fire Scout was re-designated from RQ-8B to MQ-8B. This new designation, MQ, reflects the multi-mission functionality of the Fire Scout.

The Fire Scout UAS will provide day/night real time ISR and targeting as well as communication-relay and battlefield management capabilities to support core Littoral Combat Ship mission areas of ASW, MIW and ASUW for the Naval forces. The Navy is acquiring the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV to fulfill the service's requirement for a tactical UAV capable of operating in the shipboard environment. Fire Scout is designed to operate from air capable ships and will provide a significant improvement in capability. With vehicle endurance greater than six hours, Fire Scout will be capable of continuous operations providing coverage 110 nautical miles from the launch site.

A baseline payload that includes electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser designator enables Fire Scout to find tactical targets, track and designate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms and perform battle damage assessment. The Fire Scout Vertical Take-Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) system is comprised of ground control stations, up to three MQ-8B Fire Scout air vehicles, and associated control handling and support equipment.

The VTUAV system is designed to operate from air-capable ships with initial deployment on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and will provide a significant improvement to organic surveillance capability. With vehicle endurance greater than five hours, a VTUAV system will be capable of twelve continuous hours of operations providing coverage 110 nautical miles from the launch site. The air vehicle is capable of providing UHF/VHF voice communications relay and has a baseline payload that includes electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser designator that enables the system to find tactical targets, track and designate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms and perform battle damage assessment.

The vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) system includes advanced control segment facilities that encompass the Navy's tactical control system (TCS) software for control of the UAV from ship or land. A modular mission payload capable of continued growth and a highly reliable vertical takeoff UAV meet or exceed all performance criteria requested. The air vehicle component of the VTUAV system was designated the MQ-8B to reflect the Fire Scout's evolution toward an increased, multi-functional role. Some of the notable improvements include increased power, fuel, and payload capacity. Additionally, the MQ-8B offers more than double the mission radius and time on station than the prototype VTUAV. When operational, Fire Scout will provide critical situational awareness, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting data to the forward deployed warfighter.

The vehicle is based on the Schweizer Aircraft model 330 helicopter.

Fire Scout Developments

Northrop Grumman won a competitively awarded engineering and manufacturing development contract to develop the RQ-8A variant of Fire Scout in February 2000 for the U S Navy under the VTUAV program. Flight testing begun in 2002 and formed the basis for the development of the MQ-8B enhanced endurance and capability variant. In August 2003, the MQ-8B Fire Scout was selected as Class IV unmanned air system for the US Army's Future Combat System. The FCS Fire Scout will be a key element of the Army's tactical intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting architecture, providing real-time imagery and data collection and dissemination at the brigade level.

Under a 10-year contract from the Boeing Company and Science Applications International Corporation, the Army's FCS lead systems integrators, Northrop Grumman will develop the required UAS architecture, produce MQ-8B Fire Scout air vehicles, perform system tests and evaluations, and help develop long lead future requirements.

On Dec. 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of manned flight, Fire Scout made its own history by completing its 100th consecutive successful flight. This milestone flight took place at Webster Outlying Field (OLF) near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. where Fire Scout flew a flawless mission in preparation for continuing flight operations onboard the USS Denver (LPD-9). The flight capped 18 months of successful Fire Scout system development, testing and flight demonstrations during which the UAV system accumulated approximately 75 flight hours.

In March 2004 the U S Navy contracted with Northrop Grumman to formally develop the MQ-8B Fire Scout variant for use on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The MQ-8B air vehicles for both the Navy and the Army use a common airframe but equipped with communications and payloads specific to each service needs. The MQ-8B air vehicles feature a new, four-blade rotor system (versus the RQ-8A's three-blade design), improved airfoil blades and several performance enhancements that enable more than eight hours endurance with a standard payload.

In April 2004, Northrop Grumman broke ground on a new Unmanned Systems Center at Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Miss. The company uses the new 100,000+ square foot facility to produce MQ-8B Fire Scouts for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, as well as subassembly work for the U.S. Air Force RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance system. In July 2005 Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems conducted a series of flight tests at the Yuma Proving Grounds, Yuma, AZ., that culminated in two successful launches of a 2.75" Hydra class rocket from the Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

The live fire demonstrations were preceded by functional flight tests, which focused on integration of the launcher related hardware and the hybrid software associated with vehicle management computers that send arm, safe and release commands to the missiles. The functional check flight was followed by a dry run and took place over the same flight path at identical altitudes the UAV would take once armed with a missile. Following a successful check flight and dry runs, the air vehicle performed two separate missile firings. The UAV was uploaded with one missile on the starboard side, and took off on the preprogrammed route. After commands were verified and accepted by the management computers, the UAV flew a down wind leg and prepared to enter the flight path to conduct the live fire event.

At the appropriate waypoint, with altitude approximately 1850', air speed 35 knots, the arm and fire commands were accepted and the missile was successfully launched from the Fire Scout. The vehicle was then returned to the launch point where it recovered and was shut down. Following a data review and debrief by the test and engineering teams, the vehicle was prepared for a second launch.

After uploading another missile and conducting ground safety checks, the air vehicle was launched again and performed the same procedures as the first run. Arm and fire commands were accepted and a second successful missile launch occurred. The successful Fire Scout test firings were of great interest as the Navy researches the feasibility of a weaponized, tactical UAV. Bringing such a capability to the Fleet will ultimately improve their responsiveness and adaptability, to support current readiness and future war fighting objectives.

The Navy's Unmanned Aerial System program office, and the Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (VTUAV) Program completed a major developmental milestone as the VTUAV system completed nine autonomous landings aboard USS Nashville (LPD 13). One air vehicle performed the initial tests with three landings Jan. 16, and a second air vehicle was launched 17 January 2006 to complete the testing. This was the first time a major defense autonomous UAV acquisition program has completed a landing aboard a fleet vessel.

In this test operation, the VTUAV system consisted of one air vehicle, one shore-based GCS, one ship-based GCS, the Tactical Control System software, and an Unmanned Common Automatic Recovery System (UCARS) precision landing system, plus associated test related telemetry equipment. In its fleet version, the system will add a Tactical Common Data Link and a secure landing grid system. The air vehicle used for this event was a developmental article from a previous acquisition phase, an RQ-8A. The VTUAV program is currently producing MQ-8B variants, with more capability for payloads and performance. The test was designed to exercise those areas of the system that are maturing and provide feedback into the design loop as the baseline software build for the MQ-8B is finalized.

In August 2006, the U.S. Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a $135.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the Fire Scout VTUAV program. The award definitizes the remaining portion of the work to complete the program's systems development and demonstration (SDD) phase through 2008. A total of nine MQ-8B Navy Fire Scouts are planned under the VTUAV SDD contract.

In December 2006 the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its first flight at the Webster Field annex of Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Inigoes, MD. The test events marked the first flight of the enhanced variant. During flight testing, three events were conducted and executed as planned. Flight test one was a test of the command for launch abort functionality, calling for the operator to command a launch and immediately command an abort. This test ensured that the control logic would hold the aircraft on deck if it had not yet taken off.

The second flight test was a test of the same system after takeoff had commenced. It called for the operator to issue the launch command then issue an abort command immediately after takeoff. The third flight test focused primarily on safety. Fire Scout developers have determined that when the aircraft is below ten feet, it is safest to return immediately to the deck. If the aircraft is higher than ten feet, it should continue up to a "perch" altitude of thirty feet and await further commands.

Flight test three confirmed this functionality, as the air vehicle properly ignored an abort command above ten feet and continued to the perch position. The aircraft was then allowed to hover for 12 minutes as telemetry data was recorded. Upon issuance of the land command, the aircraft executed an uneventful landing back to the launch spot.

On May 31, 2007 the U.S. Department of Defense announced that Northrop Grumman Corporation's (NYSE:NOC) MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical takeoff and landing Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (VTUAV) has reached Milestone C, signifying the beginning of its low-rate initial production phase.

The Fire Scout is the first unmanned aircraft system (UAS) within the U.S. Navy and the third UAS of all U.S. military branches to meet Milestone C in the Defense Department acquisition process. With Milestone C complete, the Fire Scout program is on track to conduct payload flights this fall and enter initial operational evaluation and then achieve initial operational capability in 2008 as planned.

As of mid-2007 the program was on schedule for fleet introduction in fiscal year 2008, with full rate production in fiscal year 2009 following successful operational evaluation.

The MQ-8B Fire Scout was produced through the efforts of the Fire Scout Industry team which include:

  • Cubic Defense Applications - communications
  • FLIR Systems, Inc. - BriteStar II payload
  • GE Fanuc - vehicle management computer
  • Kearfott Inc. - guidance and navigation
  • Lockheed Martin Corporation - ship integration
  • Raytheon Company - tactical control system
  • Rockwell Collins - avionics
  • Rolls-Royce Corporation - engine
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation - unmanned common automatic recovery system
  • Schweizer Aircraft Corporation - airframe

The Fire Scout UAV is manufactured by Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems, and the program is managed by the U.S. Navy's Unmanned Air Systems program office, PMA 263. System design work on the Fire Scout is performed at the Integrated Systems Unmanned Systems Development Center in San Diego, Calif.

The Fire Scout is assembled at the Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

Fire Scout is based on a commercial-off-the-shelf Schweizer 333 manned helicopter manufactured in Horseheads, N.Y.

General Characteristics

Contractor: Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Date Deployed: The program is currently completing EMD (engineering, manufacturing, development), and should begin low rate initial production in FY 07.

  • Propulsion: One Rolls-Royce 250C20W heavy fuel turboshaft engine
  • Length: 31.7 feet
  • Height: 9.8 feet
  • Weight: Zero fuel weight - 2,073 pounds; maximum takeoff, 3,150 pounds
  • Airspeed: 110 knots Ceiling: 20,000 feet
  • Range: 110 nautical miles radius, five-plus hours on station Load: 600 pounds, including electro-optical/infrared sensor and laser

Last Update: 16 January 2007 Technical Specifications

  • Length Folded................................................22.87 ft (7.0 m) Rotor
  • Diameter...............................................27.50 ft (8.4 m)
  • Height.............................................................9.42 ft (2.9 m) Gross
  • Weight.................................................3,150 lbs (1,428.8 kg)
  • Engine............................................................Rolls-Royce, Model 250-C20W
  • Speed..............................................................125+ knots
  • Ceiling............................................................20,000 ft (6.1 km) Total Flight Time with Baseline
  • Payload......8+ hours Total Flight Time with 500 lb Payload..........5+ hours
  • Payloads.........................................................EO / IR / LD BRITE Star II
  • ..........................................................UHF / VHF Comm Relay
  • ..........................................................COBRA Mine Detector
  • ..........................................................Airborne Comm Package

MQ-8C Fire Scout

The MQ-8C is an upgraded version of the existing MQ-8B Fire Scout using a larger airframe. It can fly nearly twice as long and carry three times more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads. The system is be used by ship-based commanders to improve the Navys intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Northrop Grumman is under contract to build 19 MQ-8C Fire Scouts, including two test aircraft. The Navy plans to purchase 70 aircraft total. Northrop Grumman Corporation delivered the first operational MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter to the US Navy in December 2014. The test program will run through the summer as we expect these aircraft to be ready for operations by years end, said George Vardoulakis, vice president for medium range tactical systems with Northrop Grumman.



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