SAN DIEGO, Jan. 6, 2004 (PRIMEZONE) -- On Dec. 17, the 100th anniversary of manned flight, the U.S. Navy's RQ-8A Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) system made its own history by completing its 100th consecutive successful flight.

This milestone flight took place at Webster Outlying Field (OLF) near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where Fire Scout flew a flawless mission in preparation for continuing flight operations onboard the USS Denver (LPD-9). The flight caps 18 months of successful Fire Scout system development, testing and flight demonstrations during which the UAV system has accumulated approximately 75 flight hours.

"The Wright brothers were disciplined engineers who applied all of their experience, knowledge, test results and tools to the task at hand," said Tom Soard, Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout program manager. "They left very little to chance, which contributed greatly to their success. The Northrop Grumman, NAVAIR/PMA-263 and Fire Scout industry team has done nothing less in the design, development and test of the Fire Scout System." According to Soard, Fire Scout's most significant accomplishments include:

-- Selection as the U.S. Army's Future Combat System Class IV UAV, August 2003;

-- The first UAV system to be Tactical Control System (TCS) Block 2 software compliant (30 flights);

-- TCS command and control level V from takeoff through landing by an airborne Navy P-3 Orion manned aircraft, Dec. 19, 2003;

-- 13 flights with multiple simultaneous payloads that included the General Atomics Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI), the baseline electro-optical/ infrared/ laser designator range finder and a communications relay payload (total payload weight was 430 pounds), July and October 2003.

Significant events in Fire Scout's future include production of eight RQ-8B air vehicles; a performance enhancement program to develop and flight test a four-bladed main rotor system with improved airfoil blades; and a weapons program to provide Fire Scout with a precision strike capability.

Initial engineering/flight test results on the new rotor system indicate that it will triple Fire Scout's payload capacity, double its on-station time at 110 nm (200 pound payload), double its payload volume and enhance system supportability.

Fit checks and engineering for the weapons program have been completed for the installation of two 4-pack 2.75" rocket launchers that will carry Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System laser-guided rockets. Live firings will take place in early 2004 with unguided rockets followed by a guided version when it is available. Other weapons initiatives next year include weapons testing with Viper Strike, a laser-guided precision munition.

The Fire Scout system is in development and low-rate initial production by Northrop Grumman. It will be a force multiplier for Navy forces at sea, and U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces ashore. The air vehicle can operate up to a service ceiling of 20,000 feet and out to 150 nautical miles of its ground control station while providing video imagery. The system can also support intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting and precision strike missions.

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is a premier aerospace and defense systems integration enterprise. Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., it designs, develops, produces and supports network-enabled integrated systems and subsystems for government and civil customers worldwide. Integrated Systems delivers best-value solutions, products and services that support military missions in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; space access; battle management command and control; and integrated strike warfare.

Note to Editors:

Additional key milestones in Fire Scout's development include:

  Feb. 2000        USN/USMC Fire Scout contract awarded

 Jan. 2001        Activation of Northrop Grumman's state-of-the-art, 
                  hardware-in-the-loop systems integration laboratory 
                  for Fire Scout system development for air vehicle, 
                  ground control station, payload, data link, and 
                  automatic landing system hardware and software 
                  integration and test.

 May 2002         First Fire Scout flights, Naval Air Warfare Center, 
                  China Lake, (just 2-1/4 years after contract award)

 May 2002 to      Ongoing flight operations at Naval Air Weapons 
 Dec. 2003        Center, China Lake, Calif.; Naval Air Station Pt 
                  Mugu, Calif.; and Webster OLF, Patuxent River, Md.  

 May 2002 to      Validation of autonomous guidance and control 
 Dec. 2003        performance, EO/IR/LDRF multimission payload 
                  performance and download of real-time digital 
                  streaming video via Tactical Common Data Link 

 May 2003         Completion of production, testing and delivery of 
                  five Fire Scout air vehicle and four ground control 

 Aug. 2003        Beginning of flight operations with the USS Denver 
                  (LPD-9) deployed off the coast of Southern 

 Dec. 2003        Completion of successful approaches to touchdown 
                  with the UAV Common Automatic Recovery System 
                  (UCARS), a precision-guidance microwave landing 
                  system, at Webster Field in preparation for ship 
                  operations.  Latest UCARS test flight included five 
                  landings, all spotted within a 15-inch diameter 
                  circle, under approach wind conditions nearing 25 
                  knots crosswind.
  CONTACT:  Cynthia Curiel
          Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems
          (858) 618-4355