Unmanned Helos Make Rapid Progress in the U.S.

 - December 16, 2010, 5:54 AM
The unmanned Fire-X demonstrator made its first flight December 10.

Remotely controlled helicopters could be delivering cargo to U.S. Marines in Afghanistan by this time next year. The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NASC) gave the go-ahead for urgent development of competing proposals from Boeing/Frontier Systems (using the A160T Hummingbird) and Lockheed Martin (based on the Kaman K-Max).

NASC says there is an urgent need to reduce warfighters’ exposure to improvised explosive devices. The fixed-price contracts are worth $29.9 million to Boeing/Frontier Systems and $45.8 million to Lockheed Martin; they each include two air vehicles, three ground control stations, and funding for a quick-reaction assessment (QRA) next summer. After the QRA, the Navy will choose one contractor to mount a six-month deployment.

Meanwhile, a Northrop Grumman/Bell team made the first flight of a larger unmanned helicopter conversion. The Fire-X demonstrator, based on the Bell 407, flew at Yuma, Ariz., on December 10. The pair announced the project last April. Bell modified the prototype with flight control hardware and software from Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B small unmanned helicopter.