The US Navy is planning to test the Northrop Grumman-built MQ-8C Fire Scout aboard ships, in a bid to assess its operational ability in the intense electromagnetic environment.
Conducted prior to its first ship-board flights later this year, the initial flight tests are aimed at validating the functions of the helicopter’s autonomous control systems.
Based on a larger helicopter airframe, the MQ-8C Fire Scout integrates specially designed Faraday cages to guard sensitive electronic equipment on the aircraft from signal interference.
Built by Summit Aviation in Somerset, Kentucky, the Faraday cages are installed during final assembly at Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Mississippi, US.
Naval Air Systems Command Fire Scout programme manager captain Patrick Smith said all navy aircraft must go through electromagnetic interference testing to ensure that they can operate safely in the ship environment.
"We’re confident that the design of the Faraday cages and other engineering work done on the MQ-8C Fire Scout will pass these tests," Smith said.
Capable of flying almost twice as long compared to the MQ-8B variant, the MQ-8C can also carry three times more intelligence-gathering sensor payloads.
Northrop Grumman’s medium range tactical systems vice-president George Vardoulakis said almost 95% of what makes up the MQ-8B variant is reused in the MQ-8C to save money and time.
"However, we took advantage of lessons learned to incorporate a more modern shielding device in the new aircraft," Vardoulakis said.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout has flown 102 flights since its first deployment on 31 October 2013.
Image: The US Navy will operate the MQ-8C Fire Scout in 2015. Photo: courtesy of the Northrop Grumman Corporation.