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Fire Scout clears 5,000 flight hours in Afghanistan

An MQ-8B Fire Scout approaches the USS Halyburton (FFG 40) flight deck.

Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has clocked up over 5,000 flight hours since deploying to Afghanistan in 2011 to provide real-time targeting support and video to allied military forces on the ground.

Based on a Schweizer Aircraft commercial airframe, the helicopter – or “Transformational Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle”, as Northrop Grumman puts it – has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at both prepared and unprepared landing zones in a war zone.

The FAA-certified Fire Scout aircraft uses turbine power fed by standard NATO heavy fuel, and boasts commonality of over 50 percent of the mechanical parts.

“Fire Scout’s versatility makes it an ideal intelligence-gathering asset for military units on the front line, both on land and at sea,” said US Naval Air Systems Command program manager Captain Patrick Smith. “This is a great accomplishment for the entire team and we have leveraged many lessons learned while we develop a more capable Fire Scout system.”

Northrop Grumman is under contract to the US Navy to deliver the first eight of 30 vastly improved Endurance Upgrade Fire Scouts by next year. These MQ-8C models will have twice the endurance and three times the payload capability.

It hasn’t all been a smooth ride for the Fire Scout. Last year, News.com.au reported that the MQ-8B failed 10 of 10 test missions – due to a variety of factors such as a broken antenna – and nearly self-destructed when an operator accidentally pressed the spacebar with a wire from his headset.

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