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RIAT: Firebird makes European debut as Northrop names buyers

Northrop Grumman has revealed the first two customers for its Firebird intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, as the company exhibits the type in Europe for the first time at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT).

On 17 July, Northrop named US operators Grand Sky Development and Tenax Aerospace as each having signed deals to acquire the Firebird.

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Northrop Grumman

Capable of carrying a 317kg (700lb) multi-sensor payload within an internal bay, the Firebird is powered by a Lycoming TEO-540 engine, and features an adapted Garmin 3000 avionics suite. Northrop says it has flown “over two dozen” sensors during testing performed to date.

Northrop has already demonstrated a 10h endurance with a pilot onboard, and says a fully unmanned configuration of its aircraft will be capable of remaining airborne for over 30h.

Based in Grand Forks, North Dakota, commercial unmanned air vehicle test and training operator Grand Sky confirms that it has signed a deposit agreement for the Firebird. “Our initial goal is to support energy infrastructure monitoring and humanitarian and disaster relief operations by leveraging Firebird’s range, altitude and endurance,” says company president Thomas Swoyer Jr.

Tenax, meanwhile, says the Firebird offers it “adaptability and flexibility in data collection at an extremely affordable price point to meet the needs of our sophisticated US government and global security customers.”

Deliveries are expected around the second half of 2021, with Northrop currently working towards securing US certification for its innovative design.

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Craig Hoyle/FlightGlobal

Meanwhile, speaking at RIAT on 20 July, Brian Chappel, the company’s senior vice-president and general manager autonomous systems, told FlightGlobal that it sees a clear need in Europe for the multi-intelligence, long-endurance capabilities offered by Firebird.

“As Europe recognises [the need] and invests more into ISR, everything can’t be big and exquisite – you are going have to have a range of capabilities,” Chappel says. “Governments and militaries in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, all those are very interesting opportunities, and we’ve finding interest already.”

Chappel says the aircraft could be supplied for less than $10 million for manned operations, with this price rising to around $20 million in fully unmanned guise. The optionally piloted version on static display at RIAT can be converted for unmanned operations by two people in less than 4h, he notes.

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