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MQ-8C unmanned helicopter

The US Navy and Northrop Grumman have successfully completed the debut flight of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on the navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109).

The latest flight, held off the Virginia coast, follows a year of land-based trials at Point Mugu, California, and involved 22 successful take-offs and 22 precision landings.

Naval Air Systems Command Fire Scout programme manager captain Jeff Dodge said: "The MQ-8C Fire Scout’s flights from the USS Dunham represent a significant navy milestone.

"This is the first sea-based flight of the MQ-8C and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer.

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"The extended capabilities will offer the navy a dynamic, multipurpose unmanned helicopter with increased endurance, allowing for our ship commanders and pilots to have a longer on-station presence."

"This is the first sea-based flight of the MQ-8C and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer."

The aircraft was controlled from the vessel’s ground control station.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace System medium-range tactical systems vice-president George Vardoulakis said: "These dynamic interface tests are an essential part in clearing the operational envelope of the system and are proving the system’s ability to operate off any air-capable ship.

"We are on track to validate all of the critical performance parameters of this navy asset and [will] ready the system for deployment and operational use."

The MQ-8C is a vertical take-off and landing UAV, which is an upgraded version of the existing MQ-8B Fire Scout. It aims to provide navy ship commanders with improved range of up to 30% and endurance capabilities.

Image: The MQ-8C Fire Scout during its debut landing on USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109). Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman.