The US Navy received its first Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter earlier this month, the company says. The aircraft will be used for developmental testing later this year.
"Ground and flight testing are the next steps in meeting the urgent requirement for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," says George Vardoulakis, Northrop's vice-president for medium-range tactical systems. "Testing on the Naval Air Systems Command test range provides us with extended air space to conduct and demonstrate long endurance and systems testing in a maritime environment."
The initial ground testing will ensure that the MQ-8C's systems work properly and can communicate with the ground control station prior to the aircraft's first flight. The MQ-8C repackages the avionics hardware from the original MQ-8B into a Bell 407 commercial helicopter to give the Fire Scout three times the payload and double the endurance at extended ranges compared to the existing system.
The first operational deployment of the MQ-8C is expected to be in 2014. Fire Scouts are typically deployed onboard the USN's Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and will also be used with its Littoral Combat Ships.