Schweizer Aircraft will work with Northrop Grumman to win new funding for the US Navy's helicopter-based RQ-8A Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV), production of which has been zero-funded in the latest defence budget proposals.

"There has been a lot of half-truths and misinterpretation of what has been happening," says company president Paul Schweizer, adding: "The fact is, the VTUAV is not dead, and we continue to provide LRIP [low rate initial production] vehicles, as well as completing development and finishing flight test aircraft. We are working very hard to get funding into the 2003 budget."

Changes are allied to RQ-8A improvement efforts by prime contractor Northrop Grumman, which had planned to build systems for six production air vehicles.

The follow-on production phase of the VTUAV programme was cancelled this month to allow the navy to fund its participation in another Northrop Grumman UAV programme, the Global Hawk (Flight International, 12-18 February). "Fire Scout has shown far more capability than the requirements called for. We're looking at significant international and domestic interest. I'm convinced it will be a programme that will go on," adds Schweizer.

VTUAV accounted for 11% of Schweizer's $43.3 million sales in 2001, against a projected 8% of the $40.5 million forecast for this year.

To boost civil production in the near-term, Schweizer plans a new fuel-injected engine development of the 300CB dubbed the -CBi. "Helicopter folks don't like a carburettor engine, so this will help eliminate the need for that, as well as improve throttle correlation.

"All 300CBs from June 2002will be fitted as standard with the injected engine, while a host of other upgrades will lie in the wings," he says.

Improvements include automatic engagement for ground overspeed protection, a low rotor-speed warning and, later, a new spline-shaft drive system to increase the time between overhaul to 4,000h.

Schweizer is certificating changes to the 333, including a cargo- hook, sliding-seat option and forward looking infrared/searchlight. Others include pop-out floats, new engine mounts, control system tweaks and a large baggage compartment.

Source: Flight International