Firescout and friend

The MQ-8B Firescout makes the 1000 hour patch, with at least 40 minutes of solo time.

The Northrop Grumman Corporation-built MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical unmanned aerial system (VUAS) has passed the 1,000 flight test hours milestone, attesting to its steady maturation as a key intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset for military forces.

Northrop Grumman is the Navy’s Fire Scout prime contractor.

To reach this milestone, the VUAS completed a number of rigorous flight demonstrations, including a military utility assessment on board the USS McInerney (FFG-8); an adverse conditions demonstration that exposed the system to extreme temperatures, wind and sand; and an on-going test flight program at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.

While deployed, US Navy Fire Scout operators detected, tracked and identified illicit traffickers on a go-fast boat in the eastern Pacific. Interception of the traffickers by a US Coast Guard detachment on the frigate resulted in the capture of approximately 60 kilos of cocaine, and forced the traffickers to jettison about 200 additional kilos of narcotics.

“Since December 2006, there have been 741 MQ-8B Fire Scout flights totaling 1,032 hours,” said Paul Achille, the Navy’s deputy program manager for Multi-mission Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems. “This has allowed us to ensure full compliance of Naval Air Systems Command requirements prior to beginning operational evaluation.”

The Fire Scout is currently undergoing system development and demonstration flight testing to mature it for use aboard Navy ships and is expected to begin its operational evaluation early next year.

“The MQ-8B Fire Scout has proven to be a versatile and highly-capable unmanned system,” said George Vardoulakis, vice president for tactical unmanned systems for Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector. “We’re looking forward to getting the system into the field where it can use its unique ISR and communications capabilities to support critical warfighter requirements.”

A two-aircraft system of the Fire Scout is set to deploy on the USS Halyburton (FFG-40) in early 2011. This will be the second “at-sea” deployment of Fire Scout. A three aircraft land-based system will also support the warfighter within the Central Command area of responsibility as part of the DoD’s ISR Task Force.

By Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.