SAN DIEGO, Dec. 20, 2006 (PRIME NEWSWIRE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) and the U.S. Navy have successfully completed the first series of flights of the enhanced, more capable version of the Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV), the MQ-8B.
"This is a very significant milestone in the execution of the system development and demonstration program, which is under contract for nine unmanned helicopters," said Captain Paul Morgan, the Navy's UAS program manager. "These flights were completed on schedule, which shows the commitment of the Navy and Northrop Grumman to work diligently to get this important warfighting capability to the fleet as soon as possible."
The MQ-8B Fire Scout offers a significant capability increase over the first generation RQ-8A Fire Scout. The addition of a fourth rotor blade, and other enhancements, give the MQ-8B greater payload carrying capacity -- up to 600 pounds for future sensors, equipment pods, and possible weapons.
The Fire Scout's endurance has also been increased to more than eight hours. The MQ-8B has a greater fuel capacity than the RQ-8A and, with a standard payload, can stay on station for six hours at 110 miles from launch site.
The current phase of flight testing is taking place at Webster Field at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. During this test series, the vehicle executed its missions fully autonomously. Vehicle operators monitored mission performance and provided updated commands while the air vehicle flew the preprogrammed mission plan. Full autonomy for the MQ-8B's first flight was accomplished through robust software/hardware integration testing in the VTUAV System Center at Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Development Center in San Diego, Calif.
"First engine run and rotor turn were completed a few weeks before first flight," said Gene Fraser, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems business unit. "We are very pleased with the progress of the MQ-8B system design and development phase of the overall program. The next two years of planned activity on this program include the Navy's okay to enter low-rate initial production, operational evaluation on a Littoral Combat Ship and operational capability in 2008."
First flight occurred less than two months after the air frame was delivered from the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems production facility in Moss Point, Miss., where the MQ-8B Fire Scouts are assembled.
"This has been a very busy year for the Fire Scout team," added Doug Fronius, Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout VTUAV program manager. "We successfully completed the first autonomous, unmanned vertical takeoff and landing from a Navy ship in January with the RQ-8A Fire Scout. We then helped to stand up the Moss Point facility in April. Despite the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, that facility opened on schedule, bringing more high technology jobs to the area. From there, the team remained motivated and dedicated to making the first flight of the MQ-8B a success."
The Navy plans to use Fire Scout on board the Littoral Combat Ship, where sailors will operate both manned and unmanned helicopters to support operational requirements. These include real-time video imagery, intelligence gathering, communications-relay capability, precision targeting and battle damage assessment.
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a $30 billion global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.
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