Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy conducted the first flight of an MQ-8B Fire Scout equipped with a new maritime surveillance radar that will “drastically” improve the Navy’s long-range surface search capabilities, the contractor said. The Navy plans to field the radar on the unmanned helicopter next year.
The U.S. Navy recently ordered five more MQ-8C Fire Scouts, bringing to 19 the number of Bell 407-based unmanned helicopters it plans to buy from Northrop Grumman. But the Fire Scout program faces scrutiny by Congress for cost overruns.
Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy conducted the first flight of the MQ-8C Fire Scout on October 31. The unmanned helicopter, which is based on the Bell 407, flew twice that day at the Point Mugu range at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.
On the first flight in restricted airspace, the MQ-8C flew in a pattern around the airfield for seven minutes to validate autonomous control systems; on the second flight, it reached an altitude of 500 feet while flying in a pattern. The aircraft was operated by a combined Navy/Northrop Grumman flight-test team located at the naval base.
Northrop Grumman delivered the first MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter to the U.S. Navy earlier this month in preparation for ground and flight testing. The first MQ-8C arrived at the Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., Point Mugu sea test range, where it is assigned to the VX-30 air test and evaluation squadron.
The U.S. Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to build six more MQ-8C unmanned helicopters based on the Bell 407, bringing to 14 the number of new, larger Fire Scouts under contract. The Navy plans to acquire a total of 30 MQ-8Cs under a rapid development effort that calls for deployment next year.
Northrop Grumman selected a Telephonics multimode surveillance radar to equip U.S. Navy MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopters under a rapid deployment capability program. The company awarded Telephonics a $33 million contract for the production, integration and testing of nine radar systems.
Although already deployed on operations to meet urgent needs, the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned surveillance helicopter has reliability and sustainability problems that have delayed its regular fielding. An updated selected acquisition report (SAR) obtained by InsideDefense.com reveals that both the initial operational capability and the full-rate production decision have been delayed by about two years until May or June 2014.