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PICTURES: Northrop offers Fire-X concept for unmanned resupply

Northrop Grumman has announced plans to later this year fly a Bell 407 helicopter modified with the autonomous control systems from its MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned air vehicle.

The initial goal for the so-called Fire-X concept is to demonstrate unmanned cargo resupply capability to the US Navy, which intends to launch a two-year demonstration programme in 2011.

© Northrop Grumman

Northrop's 3 May announcement came nine months after the USN rejected a bid from the company based on the MQ-8B for an autonomous resupply demonstration. Instead, the navy selected the Boeing A160 Hummingbird and Kaman/Lockheed Martin K-Max for the demonstration, which concluded in March.

As the USN prepares to launch a follow-on demonstration next year, Northrop’s upgraded proposal with the 407-based Fire-X provides significantly more performance than the MQ-8B, says Mike Fuqua, the company's Fire Scout enterprise business development lead.

“This aircraft has significantly more endurance, range and payload carrying capability than Fire Scout, although Fire Scout will remain part of the navy Littoral Combat Ship programme,” Fuqua says.

The Fire-X can deliver a 567kg (1,250lb) payload carried internally, or sling-load up to 1,200kg. Endurance is cited as 8h.

© Northrop Grumman

Northrop believes an optionally-manned 407 modified with the Fire Scout’s autonomous systems could also perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, as perform strike tasks.

“We see a lot of interest in optionally piloted vehicles in the future,” Fuqua says. “That capability is resident there, and could be developed in the future."

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