The US Navy and Northrop Grumman Corporation have completed a three-week operational assessment period for the MQ-8C Fire Scout at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, California.
During the OA, which included 11 flights totalling 83.4 flight hours, the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter was assessed for its performance, endurance and reliability against maritime and surveyed land targets.
Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems Fire Scout programme manager captain Jeff Dodge said: "MQ-8C is meeting or exceeding its performance objectives and will deliver greater warfighting capabilities to the fleet in the future.
"The C model will greatly impact how we monitor, understand and control the sea and air space around small surface combatants."
An upgraded version of the existing MQ-8B Fire Scout, the MQ-8C is a vertical take-off and landing UAV that aims to provide navy ship commanders with improved range of up to 30%, and endurance capabilities.
Capable of performing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions for the US Navy, the system has so far completed 427 flights and logged more than 730 hours since its first flight on 31 October 2013.
With a range of 150nm and a payload capacity of more than 700lb, initial operating capability for the MQ-8C is planned for 2016.
In May, the MQ-8C Fire Scout successfully conducted its final developmental test flight. Initial ship-based testing is scheduled to begin in 2017.
Currently deployed on the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), the smaller MQ-8B has flown more than 16,000 hours. It has also demonstrated the ability to operate alongside the MH-60 manned helicopter during ship-based operations.
Image: The MQ-8C Fire Scout completes a test flight at the Point Mugu Sea Range, Naval Base Ventura County. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman.