Photo: Northrop Grumman
Sep 8, 2011 By Graham Warwick Aviationweek.com
The U.S. Navy is to award Northrop Grumman a contract to supply 28 MQ-8C Fire Scout “rapid deployment capability” (RDC) vertical-takeoff-and-landing unmanned aircraft using the larger Bell 407 helicopter airframe to increase endurance and payload.
The notice of intent says the RDC aircraft are to be fielded by the first quarter of 2014 to meet an urgent operational requirement. The Navy has said the “endurance upgrade” Fire Scout is needed to support special operations.
After also evaluating the Boeing A160T Hummingbird and Lockheed Martin/Kaman unmanned K-Max, the Navy has adopted the 407 airframe jointly developed by Northrop Grumman and Bell as the Fire-X and first flown in December. The 407-based MQ-8C will use the same unmanned systems as the MQ-8B, which is on the smaller Schweizer 333 helicopter airframe, including the existing ship-installed ground control station, data links and automatic recovery system.
The choice follows the recommendation of the Fire Scout program office. Last month, Capt. Patrick Smith, the Navy’s Fire Scout program manager, said the recommendation of the 407 airframe was “based on the time frame limitations” imposed by the urgent operational requirement to develop the MQ-8C within 24 months, for deployment in 2014 (Aerospace DAILY, Aug. 19).
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