Delivery of the first fully operational MQ-8C Fire Scout was made to the US Navy (USN) by Northorp Grumman this week on Dec. 3.
The arrival of this advanced helicopter drone marks the beginning of its sea-based testing period, which will take place aboard the USS Jason Dunham. Already, the aircraft has undergone extensive testing in California at Naval Base Ventura County.
George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman’s vice president for medium range tactical systems said in the company’s press release that,
The test program will run through the summer as we expect these aircraft to be ready for operations by year’s end.
Currently, the American aerospace and defense firm is under contract to build 19 of the drones. The USN has plans to buy 70 MQ-8Cs.
The striking resemblance of this drone with some manned helicopters in no coincidence. It is based off of the Bell 407‘s airframe.
A smaller version of the drone, the MQ-8B, has been used by the USN for some time now. The MQ-8B is also based off of a commercial helicopter’s airframe, which is built by Schweizer Aircraft. Both the C and B versions use the same autonomous take-off and landing systems.
Back in 2011, MQ-8Bs were deployed by NATO forces in Libya. The Navy Times reported on one case where a Fire Scout crashed during a reconnaissance mission.
The C version of the MQ-8 is bigger than its predecessor. Northrop Grumman says it will be able to carry three times the amount of surveillance and reconnaissance hardware. This newer Fire Scout can also fly two times longer that the B model.
In an analysis of the new drone by Jane’s Defense Weekly, it is expected that the MQ-8C will quickly take on roles beyond that of a simple surveillance aircraft. They note that the US Department of Defense intends for the helicopter drone to also have electronic warfare capabilities.