The US Navy and Northrop Grumman have successfully completed the next-generation MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter's first flight test at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California, US.
During the testing, the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which was operated by a ground-based Navy/Northrop Grumman flight test team, flew for seven minutes to demonstrate its autonomous control systems in restricted airspace.
Following completion of its first flight, the unmanned aircraft underwent second flight trials and flew in a pattern around the airfield, reaching 500ft altitude in nine minutes.
Naval Air Systems Command Fire Scout programme manager captain Patrick Smith said the first flight marks a critical step in maturing the MQ-8C Fire Scout endurance upgrade prior to entering service with the US Navy next year.
"This system's evolution enhances how unmanned air systems will support maritime commanders," Smith said.
Although the programme aims to support Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) missions, the MQ-8C aircraft will undergo initial shipboard testing on Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG)-class ships.
The MQ-8C UAV has been designed to offer an enhanced range, more than double the endurance and increased payload capacity when compared to the MQ-8B variant.
"MQ-8C will require fewer aircraft [than the MQ-8B] to operate at maximum performance and will meet the US Africa and Special Operation Commands urgent needs requirement." Smith added.
With initial operating capability scheduled for 2016, MQ-8C is expected to be operational with the US Navy in 2014.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout programme industry team comprises Bell Helicopter, Rolls-Royce, Summit Aviation, Cubic, General Electric Aviation, Sierra Nevada and Honeywell.
Work for the MQ-8C Fire Scout is being carried out at the Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Mississippi, US.
Image: A US Navy's MQ-8C unmanned helicopter takes off at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, California. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman/Released.