July 14, 2005 The most advanced vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) tactical unmanned air vehicle (UAV) in the World is the Northrop Grumman RQ-8A (AKA the Fire Scout) and the Fire Scout recently performed its vast capabilities during a two-hour flight demonstration for this year's Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's North American convention held in Baltimore. The capabilities of the RQ-8A and next generation RQ-8B which will offer greater endurance and payload capabilities, will be critical to the Littoral Combat Ship's mission to protect and monitor the shoreline, coastal waters and open seas. These will include Fire Scout's ability to deploy precision-guided munitions and to carry several new payloads for advanced communications, maritime and land-based surveillance, and mine detection. The RQ-8B VTOL UAV is pictured with the LCS at right and will also play a major role in the US Armed Forces Future Combat System (FCS). The RQ-8A VTOL UAV demonstrated fully autonomous flight, operational flexibility and showcased the complete U.S. Navy system architecture -- demonstrating key Navy requirements including the tactical-control system, ground-control station and data transmission using a tactical common-data link -- during a two-hour flight demonstration at the Navy's Webster Field.
The audience for the UAV demonstrations included military and government customers, and national and international media. "This was a very impressive demonstration today," said Navy Capt. Paul Morgan, commanding officer of the Navy's UAV program office. "The Fire Scout really stood out because of the highly advanced capabilities the aircraft possesses. Especially impressive was Fire Scout's display of capabilities it brings to the table for our warfighters. It's clear by this demonstration that Fire Scout can do exactly what it's designed for -- extending the range in which we can gather crucial information during peace-keeping or wartime missions."
The demonstration included numerous passes along the flight line as well as non-line-of-sight operations which showcased Fire Scout's ability to operate autonomously in remote locations. Fire Scout also displayed streaming imagery of the audience onto a large screen, illustrating its real-time imagery-transmission capability, which is vital to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions it's designed to perform for military forces.
The RQ-8A is based on the Schweizer Model 330SP manned light helicopter and can fly for eight hours at a maximum speed of more than 230 km/h. It is powered by a 175 kW Rolls-Royce/Allison 250-C20W turboshaft engine which drives a three-bladed rotor. The blades can be folded for compact stowage of the UAV.
The Fire Scout is equipped with a GPS-based navigation system for autonomous operations, and the GCS (Ground Control Station) can simultaneously control three RQ-8As.
The Fire Scout RQ-8A has logged more than 140 flight hours, and Northrop Grumman continues to operate the RQ-8A to reduce risk for the future RQ-8B configuration, which will offer greater endurance and payload capabilities.
The Fire Scout program's next major flight milestone is scheduled to begin later this month (July) when Northrop Grumman will begin weapons testing at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The weapons testing will continue through August.
"Northrop Grumman and our primary customers conducted detailed milestone reviews of the new RQ-8B including a preliminary review of the system's design, airframe and propulsion systems," said Nick Yorio, Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems director of tactical systems, which includes the Fire Scout program.
"The company is committed to enhance Fire Scout's performance in order to meet challenging requirements set by both the Navy and the Army including the ability to maintain current performance while carrying heavier and more robust payloads. These key reviews ensured that we are on track to cost-effectively develop and deliver the optimum system for our customers."
Additional reviews are planned for later this year to validate system upgrades, review Fire Scout's compatibility with the Navy's next-generation littoral combat ship and with NATO interoperability standards, perform weapons integration for Army-related applications, and review the system's modular payload architecture.