Northrop Grumman Corporation and Bell Helicopter have teamed up to develop Fire-X, a medium-range vertical unmanned aerial system (VUAS) that is designed to stay airborne for longer periods of time, communicate more easily with their commanders, and deliver more cargo to more remote locations. The new rugged, high-capacity UAS is based on the four-blade, single-engine Bell 407 helicopter that’s been in commercial use since 1996 and takes advantage of Northrop Grumman’s experience in developing the smaller Fire Scout UAV.

Fire-X will carry an array of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and target acquisition sensors for enhanced situational awareness. Its extended cargo hauling (more than 2600 lbs external), payload (up to 3000 pounds), and endurance (more than 14 hours) capabilities will deliver additional mission flexibility to commanders on the ground.

Fire-X is being designed to operate with nearly any type of current or future military standards-based control segment. It will communicate as easily with shipboard controllers using the Navy's Tactical Control Station (TCS) as field commanders using the U.S. Army's field-proven One System ground control station.

"Fire-X will be an affordable, low-risk, fast-fielding system that delivers the maturity of the unmanned systems architecture developed by the U.S. Navy's MQ-8B Fire Scout program, and the extra UAS cargo, payload and endurance that military services seek," said Gene Fraser, sector vice president and general manager for the Advanced Programs and Technology division of Northrop Grumman's Aerospace Systems sector.

In addition to using Fire Scout's unmanned systems architecture, it will draw on the company's systems integration and testing expertise acquired through developing targets for the Navy, the Army's MQ-5A Hunter fixed wing UAS, and the company's new line of scalable Bat unmanned aircraft systems.

The new VUAS was unveiled this week in Northrop Grumman’s booth at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National Harbor, Md. with the first flight of the Fire-X expected by the end of 2010. The new system also represents Northrop Grumman's entry in an anticipated U.S. Navy competition in 2011 to demonstrate a new medium-range UAS.