MQ-8 Fire Scout
|MQ-8 Fire Scout|
A Fire Scout helicopter preparing to land on the USS Nashville
|Unmanned aerial vehicle|
The MQ-8 Fire Scout is an unmanned, robotic helicopter under development in Rancho Bernardo, California for use by the United States armed forces. Northrop Grumman is developing the Fire Scout to provide the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps with reconnaissance, situational awareness and precision targeting support.
The initial version was designated RQ-8A, and in August 2003, an enhanced version of the Fire Scout, the RQ-8B, was selected as the Class IV UAV for the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems. This enhanced four-bladed main rotor version of the Fire Scout must meet 8 hour flight duration and 130lb payload specifications. It is designed to give Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability at the brigade level. Due to the aircraft's multi-role capability, it was renamed MQ-8B.
As the Navy was withdrawing its RQ-2 Pioneers from service, it began to seek a second generation UAV. The Navy requirement specified a vertical takeoff & landing (VTOL) aircraft, with a payload capacity of 90 kilograms (200 pounds), a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles), an endurance on station of three hours at an altitude of 6 kilometers (20,000 feet), and the ability land on a ship in a 46 km/h (29 mph) breeze. The UAV was to fly 190 hours between maintenance.
There were three finalists in the competition, which was designated "VTOL-UAV" or "VTUAV". Bell Helicopters, Sikorsky, and a collaboration of Teledyne Ryan and Schweizer Aircraft submitted designs. The Ryan-Schweizer UAV was selected as the winner in the spring of 2000. The RQ-8A Fire Scout, as it was named, was a derivative of the Schweizer three-passenger, turbine powered 330SP helicopter, itself a derivative of the Schweizer 330 helicopter, with a new fuselage, new fuel system, and UAV electronics and sensors.
The initial prototype of the Fire Scout was piloted in initial tests, flying autonomously for the first time in January 2000. The Rolls-Royce Allison 250 turbine engine ran on JP-5 and JP-8 jet fuel, which is nonvolatile and safe for shipboard storage.
The Fire Scout was to be fitted with a sensor ball turret that carries electro-optic and infrared cameras, and a laser range finder. It was to be controlled over a data link derived from the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, operating over a line of sight to a distance of 280 kilometers (172 miles). The control system was to be fitted onto a ship, or could be carried on a Hummer light vehicle for U.S. Marine service.
The Fire Scout program suffered a setback in November 2000, when the initial prototype crashed and was destroyed, leading to a schedule slip. Despite the accident, the Navy was expected to move quickly to begin production and introduction of the type, but then in late 2001 the program went into a holding pattern.
In January of 2006, an RQ-8A Fire Scout landed aboard the U.S. Navy warship USS Nashville while it was steaming off the coast of Maryland near the Patuxent River. This marked the first time an unmanned helicopter has landed aboard a moving U.S. Navy ship without a pilot controlling the aircraft. The USS Nashville, which is an amphibious transport ship, was maneuvering as fast as 17 mph in the tests.
Although progress on the project had been regarded as satisfactory, the Navy decided the Fire Scout didn't meet their needs after all, and cut funding for production in December 2001. However, the development program continued, and Northrop Grumman pitched a range of improved configurations to anyone who was interested. As it turned out, the U.S. Army was very interested, awarding a contract for seven improved "RQ-8B" evaluation machines in late 2003. In 2006, it was redesignated "MQ-8B".
The MQ-8B features four-blade main rotor, in contrast to the larger-diameter three-blade rotor of the RQ-8A, to reduce noise and improve lift capacity and performance. The four-blade rotor had already been evaluated on Fire Scout prototypes. They boost gross takeoff weight by 225 kilograms (500 pounds) to 1,428 kilograms (3,150), with payloads of up to 317 kilograms (700 pounds) for short-range missions.
The MQ-8B is fitted with stub wings as well. The wings will serve both an aerodynamic purpose as well as an armament carriage location, with weapons to include such as Hellfire missiles; Viper laser-guided glide weapons; and in particular pods carrying the "Advanced Precision Kill Weapon (APKW)", a laser-guided 70 millimeter (2.75 inch) folding-fin rocket, which the Army sees as ideal for the modern battlefield. The Army is also interested in using the Fire Scout to carry up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds) of emergency supplies to troops in the field.
The MQ-8B is being modified to permit rapid swapout of payload configurations. The current sensor configuration of a day/night turret with a laser target designator will of course remain an option. Alternate sensor payloads in consideration include a SAR with Moving Target Indicator (MTI) capability; a multispectral sensor; and a SIGINT module. The Army wants the Fire Scout to operate as an element of an integrated ground sensor network as well.
Ironically, the Army interest revived Navy interest in the program, with the Navy ordering eight Sea Scout MQ-8B derivatives for evaluation.
Production of the flight test airframes was initiated in April 2006 at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems production plant in Moss Point, Mississippi. First flight of the MQ-8B took place on December 18, 2006 at NAS Patuxent River.
Between 2006 and 2008, the flight test program is expected to continue and the Navy is expected to approve low-rate initial production. Production aircraft are expected to be deployed on the Navy's Littoral combat ships.
- "Northrop lifts Navy to new era for unmanned flight", Aerotech News and Review, 2006-12-22
- Unmanned copter looks shipshape San Diego Union Tribune, January 19, 2006
- Northrop's page on Fire Scout
This article contains material that originally came from the web article Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by Greg Goebel, which exists in the Public Domain.
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