January 22, 2006 A new chapter in naval aviation history was rewritten this week when two RQ-8A Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) completed nine autonomous shipboard landings on board USS Nashville (LPD 13). It is the first time a UAV has performed vertical landings on a moving ship without a pilot controlling the aircraft. The RQ-8A is a test version of the newer MQ-8B Fire Scout being developed by Northrop Grumman for the Navy and the U.S. Army. The MQ-8B Fire Scout is the aircraft element of a complete system called the Vertical takeoff and landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) system.
"This event is significant for the Navy because it continues to move the Fire Scout program forward - scheduled to arrive in the fleet in 2008," said Cmdr. Rob Murphy, the Navy's VTUAV integrated product team leader. "The Nashville's crew and Northrop Grumman's test team did a marvelous job, and the outcome of the test fulfilled our expectations about the vehicle's ability to land on and take off from a moving ship."
After it was launched from the naval air station, the Fire Scout flew to the designated test area, where the USS Nashville was waiting for the air vehicle to land and take off under its own control. The flight was monitored from a ship-based control station called a tactical control system, and the air vehicle was guided onto the ship using an unmanned air vehicle common automatic recovery system.
"This test represents another successful milestone in the ongoing development of the Fire Scout," said Doug Fronius, Northrop Grumman's program director for the Navy Fire Scout program. "The data from the ship-landing test is valuable as we prepare the newer MQ-8B version of the Fire Scout to land on a ship in 2007."
The Navy plans to use Fire Scout on board the Littoral Combat Ship, where sailors will operate both manned and unmanned helicopters to support operational requirements.
Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector is developing and producing 12 MQ-8B Fire Scout UAVs; four for the Navy and eight for the Army.
Fire Scout will provide the warfighter with real-time video imagery and provide communications-relay capability. The weapons-capable air vehicle, which can fly missions more than eight hours long, will also help warfighters assess battle damage, provide precision targeting and gather intelligence.