After two incidents resulting in crashes, Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout operations are on an 'operational pause' for the indefinite future. One aircraft was damaged on 30 March after landing in the ocean. The second aircraft crashed in Afghanistan on 6 April, according to an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press release.
The 30 March incident occurred at night off the coast of West Africa, when the aircraft was unable to lock on to the automated recovery beacon. Despite several attempted approaches, the aircraft was unable to pick up the signal.
"After multiple approaches and exhaustive troubleshooting at established minimum fuel limits, the aircraft was positioned a safe distance from the ship and terminated flight," says the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). "Subsequently, USS Simpson performed a night time recovery of the aircraft which remained relatively intact."
Despite the damaging water landing, the aircraft was recovered intact and the navy does not consider the aircraft a full loss.
© Northrop Grumman
The 6 April incident occurred during an operational mission over northern Afghanistan, where three Fire Scouts are deployed for operations. While both the navy and Northrop declined to comment - or even confirm the aircraft's involvement - the ISAF press release cites the crash of a rotary-wing UAS in northern Afghanistan, where Fire Scout is the only rotary UAS is known to operate. An order grounding Fire Scout was released the same day.
Sources with knowledge confirmed the loss of a deployed Fire Scout, but declined to speculate on the cause or circumstances of the crash, except to say that enemy action was unlikely to be involved.
The grounding order applies to all Fire Scouts, including the two remaining in Afghanistan and the lone other aboard the Simpson. Workups for an anticipated summer deployment aboard the USS Klackring are interrupted by the grounding. No other aircraft, including two deployed Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-max deployed in southern Afghanistan, are affected by the order.
NAVAIR deferred comment on the accident to ISAF, which did not immediately respond to requests for information.