The US Navy has taken delivery of the first operational MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned air vehicle (UAV) from Northrop Grumman.
Representing the first upgraded Fire Scout to deploy for the Navy, the UAV is scheduled to conduct its first ship-board flight tests on-board the USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) in the next few months.
Upon completion of the flight tests, the navy will assess the system for operational use.
Northrop Grumman medium-range tactical systems vice-president George Vardoulakis said: "The test programme will run through the summer as we expect these aircraft to be ready for operations by year's end."
An upgraded version of the current MQ-8B Fire Scout, the MQ-8C is a vertical takeoff and landing UAV designed to provide navy ship commanders with enhanced range, by more than 30%, and twice the endurance of its predecessor.
A derivative of the Bell Helicopter 407 rotorcraft, the drone has a payload capacity of more than 700lbs and is expected to meet a US Africa and Special Operation Commands urgent needs requirement.
Since its first flight in October 2013, the system has flown 219 flights and 287 hours, as well as completed precision slope landing tests, electromagnetic testing that ensured compatibility with ship-based emitters, and an initial phase of dynamic interface testing that validated deck handling and communications networks.
Northrop is under contract to manufacture and supply 19 MQ-8C Fire Scouts, including two test aircraft.
The navy has announced plans to purchase a total of 70 aircraft, which are scheduled to be used by ship-based commanders to improve the navy's intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Image: A MQ-8C Fire Scout UAV sits on the tarmac at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman.