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.
Littoral combat ship
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.
The Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout, a vertical takeoff unmanned air system (VTUAS), began its first operational deployment with the U.S. Navy last month. Two vehicles are currently embarked on the guided-missile frigate U.S.S. McInerney (FFG 8) for a six-month cruise operating alongside a Sikorsky SH-60B on counter-drug operations in the eastern Pacific. Compatibility trials with the frigate got under way last December.
The U.S. Navy revealed yesterday that the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout is to be temporarily “decoupled” from the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The decision was taken so that the MQ-8B can be fielded on schedule, despite delays to the LCS. The Navy remains committed to deploying the MQ-8B aboard LCS at some stage, but is migrating the Fire Scout to another class of vessel in the interim.