SIERRA VISTA, Ariz., Aug. 9, 2005 (PRIMEZONE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has taken a significant step toward modernizing the U.S. Army's fleet of Hunter unmanned systems by conducting the first engineering flight of an enhanced, multi-mission variant of the current RQ-5A air vehicle called the MQ-5B. The 66-minute check-out flight of the upgraded air vehicle, which features extended range, endurance and weapon capabilities, was conducted July 8 at Libby Air Field, Ft. Huachuca, Ariz.

Compared to the fielded RQ-5A air vehicles, which have flown more than 14,000 hours on combat missions in the Balkans and Iraq, the MQ-5B Hunter offers a longer wing span (34 ft. vs. 29 feet), longer maximum endurance (approximately 15 hours vs. the current 12 hours), and higher operating altitude (approximately 18,000 feet vs. 15,000 feet). The new air vehicle also features modern, dual-redundant avionics; the LN-251 inertial navigation system/global positioning system, which improves the accuracy of target location; and a heavy-fuel engine.

"The MQ-5B effort represents a successful application of the Army's 'modernization through spares' strategy to the workhorse RQ-5A Hunter, which has delivered a reliability rate exceeding 99 percent since it was first fielded in 1996," said Jim Bennett, Northrop Grumman's Hunter program manager. "Adding this improved model to the Army's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) inventory will allow commanders to obtain a more precise view of the tactical battle space and give them the option to attack targets of opportunity without putting soldiers at risk."

The goal of the first MQ-5B flight was to evaluate the UAV's controllability and handling characteristics. After a dozen high-speed taxi runs, the air vehicle was commanded to lift off and it did so successfully. At a safe altitude, the company's flight-operations team conducted a series of controllability tests at various airspeeds before safely landing the UAV. The flight validated predictions about the MQ-5B's performance developed from an earlier series of test flights conducted using a RQ-5A Hunter air vehicle retrofitted with some, but not all, of the MQ-5B's new components.

The company plans to use a subsequent set of test flights to test the MQ-5B's improved capabilities including its avionics redundancy, camera-guided flight, mission-based return home and its ability to accurately acquire targets.

Northrop Grumman operated the MQ-5B under the control of a prototype "One System" ground control station. The One System shelter is a standard Army ground control station that can be configured to fly a variety of Army UAVs, including the Shadow and Hunter. Northrop Grumman has previously demonstrated the ability of its prototype One System ground control station to operate the RQ-5A Hunter and an extended-range version known as E-Hunter. The company is currently integrating the Fire Scout into a pre-production version of the One System ground control station.

The first fielding of the MQ-5B Hunter using the Army's One System ground control station with an automated take-off and landing capability is planned for early 2006.

The MQ-5B flight is part of an on-going, collaborative effort by Northrop Grumman and the Army to address obsolescence, enhance the operational performance and reduce the maintenance costs of the Hunter fleet. As the Army's primary UAV integrator, the company currently provides all depot-level maintenance, support and engineering services for the Hunter system, which the company developed in partnership with Israel Aircraft Industries in the early 1990s.

"With the improvements we've added for the MQ-5B, Hunter is now among the most modern unmanned systems in the world," said Dave Edwards, Northrop Grumman's director of tactical ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and C3 (command, control and communications). "In fact, it is the most advanced unmanned system we're aware of in the marketplace."

In Jan. 2001, Northrop Grumman began development of the heavy-fuel engine used in the MQ-5B. Designed to run on diesel fuel, which is more available than the MOGAS (motor gasoline) or AVGAS (aviation gasoline) fuel currently used by Hunter air vehicles, it allows the Hunter UAV to climb faster, operate at higher operational altitudes and reduce fuel consumption. To date, Northrop Grumman has conducted more than 83 engineering and production flight tests of this new engine covering more than 265 hours.

Northrop Grumman is the leading producer of unmanned aircraft systems for the U.S. Department of Defense. Its programs include the U.S. Air Force's RQ-4 Global Hawk; the Army's RQ-5A Hunter; the RQ-8B Fire Scout being developed for Army and U.S. Navy use; and the stealthy X-47 Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems, currently in development for a joint Air Force/Navy/DARPA team.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. Northrop Grumman provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. With more than 125,000 employees, and operations in all 50 states and 25 countries, Northrop Grumman serves U.S. and international military, government and commercial customers.

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