Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle avionics run by COTS computers

By John McHale

RANCHO BERNARDO, Calif., 23 Dec. 2009. The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter from Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., uses commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) avionics for its flight control system (see related story entitled U.S. Navy avionics systems integrators embrace open architectures to combat parts obsolescence).

The Fire Scout's avionics are similar to those of manned systems, says John VanBrabant, Fire Scout domestic maritime business development manager at Northrop Grumman Aerospace. The main exception is with redundant vehicle management system that has a vehicle management computer (VMC).

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is autonomous with a pre-programmed mission, VanBrabant says. The operator onboard ship or the ground can take over with the click of a mouse, but otherwise it flies on its own, he adds.

The flight control system is separate from the UAV payload system to enable payload changes without recertifying flight-control software, VanBrabant says. "The Navy has spent a lot of money on software development and wants to reuse as much as possible," he adds.

Northrop Grumman designed the system to uses as much COTS equipment as possible and use an open architecture to manage component obsolescence, VanBrabant says. The COTS vehicle management computer and other parts of the avionics are designed and produced by GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms in Charlottesville, Va., VanBrabant says.

In the case of Fire Scout, GE Fanuc also supplies a payload interface computer and the router/switch for each Fire Scout, explains says Peter Cavill, general manager of military & aerospace products at GE Fanuc.
"The VMC is a self contained digital computer containing processors, memory, input/output circuits, and associated support circuits required to perform the flight control and vehicle management functions," Cavill says. "The VMC is intended to function within a dual redundant vehicle management system (VMS), with one additional identical VMC operating in frame synchronous fashion, providing fault-tolerant control of UAV flight control and subsystems. Each VMC includes cross channel data links (CCDL) for the exchange of input signals.

"The Vehicle Management Computer (VMC) functions as the core computational and control element within a redundant control system on critical airborne platforms," Cavill continues. "The VMC performs functions critical to flight safety including guidance and navigation, flight path, and vehicle stability control, and vehicle subsystems control."

The compact VMC has six 3U CompactPCI slots, makes use of a single-board computer with a PowerPC 750/755 400-500 MHz processor, and support for the Wind River Systems VxWorks and Green Hills Integrity real-time operating systems (RTOSs), Cavill says.

The computer also "interfaces with aircraft sensors, inceptors, actuators, and utilities/subsystems equipment primarily via high speed serial data networks," he explains. "The VMC performs the core flight control computing and failure monitoring functions while relegating the bulk of input/output interfacing to Remote Input/Output Units (RIU), which are also components of the VMS.

The UAV performs an autonomous landing through its UAV common automatic recovery system (UCARS) from Sierra Nevada Corp. in Sparks, Nev., VanBrabant says. At the end of its mission it will hover behind the ship, wait for a signal from the ship to land and use its instruments to determine the speed of the ship and its pitch and position in the water to make a proper landing, VanBrabant explains.

These are all actions that a pilot would normally make using instinctive visual cues, VanBrabant says. With a UAV the system must be completely preprogrammed to perform those functions automatically, he adds.

According to the Sierra Nevada website "he UCARS-V2 was developed to provide day/night, all-weather, automatic landing and takeoff capabilities for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems operating from shipboard and/or fixed-base land environments. The UCARS-V2 is a direct descendent of the UCARS UPN-51 system that is in service today with the U.S. Marine Corps Pioneer UAV. The UCARS-V2 consists of two primary components: a ground based radar track subsystem (TS) and an air vehicle mounted airborne transponder subsystem (AS). UCARS-V2 can also provide an automatic take-off capability for both fixed and rotary wing UAVs. UCARS-V2 has been integrated to perform automatic take-off and/or landing operations on numerous different UAS."

The Fire Scout is currently flying off of a U.S. Navy guided-missile frigate -- the USS McInerney -- and performing naval operations in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, VanBrabant says.

According to Northrop Grumman data sheets the system is based on the "Schweizer Model 333 manned helicopter, can autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at unprepared landing zones in proximity to the forward edge of the battle area."

It is basically a unmanned version of the H-60 helicopter and primarily H-60 pilots are the operators of the Fire Scout, VanBrabant says.

Fire Scout's endurance exceeds eight hours and it can provide coverage 110 nautical miles from the launch site. The aircraft's tactical baseline payload includes electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser pointer/laser rangefinder to help the system "find tactical targets, track and designate targets, accurately provide targeting data to strike platforms, and perform battle damage assessment," according to the data sheets.


Follow me on Twitter

Join the PennWell Aerospace and Defense Media Group on Linkedin at

Become a fan of Military & Aerospace Electronics on Facebook at

Post your aerospace and defense-related material to the #milaero community on Twitter. Use the #milaero hashtag.

Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

Custom and OEM Camera Design

We provide custom designs for both modifications to existing systems and development of new produ...

Nano-D Bi-Lobes® Connectors Dual Row Horizontal SMT (Type AA)

Horizontal SMT Bi-Lobe® nanos offer an extremely low profile package that is well suited to pick ...

Latching Micro-D Connectors

Omnetics high reliability Micro-D connectors are available with Quick Latch System. For applicati...

Nano-D BiLobe® Connectors -(COTS)

Sizes are 9, 15, 21, 25, 31, 37 , 51 & 65 pin, at .025 Mil. Pitch(Currently Available), mating pi...

Hybrid Micro-D Connectors

Omnetics high reliability Micro-D connectors are available withmixed power/signal contact layouts...

Micro-D Connectors

Highly rugged and compact designs in shell styles from 9 to 51 contacts. The Micro-D connectors i...

Omnetics Nano-D Bi-Lobe® Latching Connectors

Bi-Lobe® connectors utilize rugged and reliable flex pin contact system. Spaced on 25 mil (.64mm)...

XPedite7575 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module

The XPedite7575 is a high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the 5th genera...

XTend7103 | COM Express® Carrier for COM Express® Type 10 Mezzanine Modules

The XTend7103 is a COM Express® carrier card designed to provide a low-cost and compact platform ...

XPort6173 | 3U VPX Carrier for Two 2.5 in. Solid-State Drives (SSDs)

The XPort6173 supports two, standard, 2.5 in. Solid-State Drives (SSDs) in a single 0.8 in. or 1....

Related Companies

Interface Displays & Controls Inc

Certified ISO-9001/AS9100, veteran-owned, small business. Interface specializes in designing, reverse-engineering and...

Southwest Antennas

Designs and manufactures high-performance RF and Microwave antennas and accessories designed for today’s communicatio...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

GE Aviation Systems

Designs and manufactures high reliability microelectronics for aerospace and military applications. Thick film hybrid...

Astronics Ballard Technology

Manufactures avionics databus interfaces, embedded computers, and software for aerospace, military and commercial use...


Manufactures a large range of underwater electrical and fiber optic connectors. In business for 45 years.

Henniker Plasma

Plasma Treatment Equipment - Plasma Cleaners, Plasma Etchers, Plasma Coating & Plasma Surface ModificationWe are the ...

Fabritech Inc

Fabritech was established in 1986 and specializes in the fabrication of EMI, RFI, and thermal shielded products made ...

SHENMAO America Inc

Provides quality performance solder materials including: SMT assembly, lead free and tin lead solder paste, cored sol...


The Intel Xeon-D processor and its role in high-performance embedded computing (HPEC)

The rugged Intel Xeon-D server-class multicore microprocessor is set to revolutionize high-performance embedded computing. By itself, the processor will bring unprecedented power to embedded computing applic...

Harsh Environment Protection for Advanced Electronics and Components

This webinar will offer an opportunity to learn more about ultra-thin Parylene conformal coatings – how they are applied, applications they protect today, and the properties and benefits they offer, includin...

Press Releases


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has received a contract from Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to supply its small form factor ...

Innovative Integration Announces the FMC-Servo

Camarillo, CA June 19, 2015, Innovative Integration, a trusted supplier of signal processing and data acquisition hardware and software solutions, today announced the FMC-S...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has further enhanced its innovative VRD1 high definition (HD) video management system (VMS) w...

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

August 2015
Volume 26, Issue 8

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles