Northrop Grumman has delivered the first MQ-8C aircraft to the US Navy in early July, in preparation for ground and flight testing. “The endurance upgrade doubles the time on station of the MQ-8 system and will help reduce the workload for the ship’s crew by cutting the number of times the crew will need to be in flight quarters,” said George Vardoulakis, vice president, medium range tactical systems for Northrop Grumman. “Ground and flight testing are the next steps in meeting the urgent requirement for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Testing on the Naval Air Systems Command test range provides us with extended air space to conduct and demonstrate long endurance and systems testing in a maritime environment.” Northrop Grumman is the US Navy’s prime contractor for the MQ-8 Fire Scout program of record. The first deployment of the upgraded MQ-8 system with the MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft will be in 2014.
The upcoming tests will be used to validate and mature the upgraded MQ-8 system for operational use. Initial ground testing will ensure that the systems work properly and communicate with the ground control station prior to conducting first flight. The MQ-8 system with the upgraded MQ-8C aircraft will share proven software, avionics, payloads and ship ancillary equipment with the MQ-8B aircraft.
The upgraded Fire Scout responds to an urgent need to provide the Navy with increased endurance, range and payload. Using a modified, commercially available Bell 407 airframe, the upgraded MQ-8 system can provide commanders with three times the payload and double the endurance at extended ranges compared to the current MQ-8B variant based on the Schweizer 330SP platform. The MQ-8B aircraft currently operates at sea on US Navy frigates and on land in Afghanistan, where it provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to maritime and ground commanders.