Northrop Grumman moves forward with MQ-8 unmanned helicopter upgrades in potential $262.3 million contract

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 24 April 2012. Engineers from the Northrop Grumman Corp. Aerospace Systems sector in San Diego will develop and build two unmanned helicopters, as well as six MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as part of the vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) endurance upgrade rapid deployment capability, under terms of a potential $262.3 million contract announced Monday.

MQ-8B Fire Scout is an unmanned helicopter for U.S. Navy situational awareness and precision targeting. The unmanned aircraft is based on the Schweizer Model 333 two-seat manned helicopter from Schweizer Aircraft Corp. in Horseheads, N.Y. It can autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at unprepared landing zones near battlefields.

The contract, awarded by U.S. Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., is to develop, build, and test two vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (VTUAVs), build six air vehicles, and provide spare parts in support of the VTUAV endurance upgrade rapid deployment capability effort.

The 9.4-foot tall, 3,150-pound MQ-8B Fire Scout can reach speeds of up to 125 knots, and altitudes of 20,000 feet. It’s capable of continuous operations that provide coverage up to 110 nautical miles from the launch site.

The MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) has a modular mission payload of electro-optical and infrared sensors, as well as a laser pointer and laser rangefinder, which enable the aircraft to find, track, and designate targets and perform battle damage assessment. The MQ-8 also can act as a communications node for network-centric warfare.

Northrop Grumman builds the MQ-8 Fire Scout at a facility at Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Miss., which opened in 2006.

The unmanned helicopter uses the Tactical Control Segment (TCS) software from the Raytheon Co. Intelligence and Information Systems business, the FLIR Systems BRITE Star II electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload, and the Northrop Grumman COBRA multi-spectral mine detection payload. The aircraft also carries the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) from Cubic Corp. to relay real-time wide-band imagery and other information.

Northrop Grumman has demonstrated MQ-8 Fire Scout radar capability to detect and track several targets with a Telephonics RDR-1700B radar system. The Fire Scout eventually will be armed with gun pods, Hydra 70-millimeter rocket pods, and small missiles.

On the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout team are Cubic Defense Applications -- communications; FLIR Systems Inc. -- Brite STAR II payload; GE Intelligent Platforms -- vehicle management computer; Kearfott Inc. -- guidance and navigation; Lockheed Martin Corp. -- ship integration; Raytheon Co. -- tactical control system; Rockwell Collins -- avionics; Rolls-Royce Corp. -- engine; Sierra Nevada Corporation -- unmanned common automatic recovery system; and Schweizer Aircraft Corp. -- airframe.

The MQ-8 Fire Scout is 30 feet long, 9.4 feet tall, can fly as fast as 125 knots to altitudes of 20,000 feet, and has a rotor diameter of 27.5 feet.

On the current contract, Northrop Grumman will do the work in Moss Point, Miss.; San Diego; and Yuma, Ariz., and should be finished in May 2014.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman Aerospace online at, or Naval Air Systems Command at

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