The Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout is an unmanned autonomous helicopterUnited States armed forces. Northrop Grumman is developing the Fire Scout to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support. The initial RQ-8A version was based on the Schweizer 330, while the enhanced MQ-8B is derived from the Schweizer 333. developed for use by the
As the US Navy was withdrawing its RQ-2 Pioneers from service, it began to seek a second generation UAV. The Navy requirement specified a vertical takeoff & landing (VTOL) aircraft, with a payload capacity of 90 kilograms (200 pounds), a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles), an endurance on station of three hours at an altitude of 6 kilometers (20,000 ft), and the ability to land on a ship in a 46 km/h (29 mph) breeze. The UAV was to fly 190 hours between maintenance.
There were three finalists in the competition, which was designated "VTOL-UAV" or "VTUAV". Bell, Sikorsky, and a collaboration of Teledyne Ryan and Schweizer AircraftRQ-8A Fire Scout, as it was named, was a derivative of the Schweizer three-passenger, turbine powered 330SP helicopter, with a new fuselage, new fuel system, and UAV electronics and sensors. submitted designs. The Ryan-Schweizer UAV was selected as the winner in the spring of 2000. The
The initial prototype of the Fire Scout was piloted in initial tests, flying autonomously for the first time in January 2000. The Rolls-Royce 250-C20 turbine engine ran on JP-5JP-8 jet fuel, which is nonvolatile and safe for shipboard storage. and
The Fire Scout was to be fitted with a sensor ball turret that carries electro-optic and infrared cameras, and a laser range finder. It was to be controlled over a data link derived from the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, operating over a line of sight to a distance of 280 kilometers (172 miles). The control system was to be fitted onto a ship, or could be carried on a Hummer light vehicle for U.S. Marine service.
Although progress on the project had been regarded as satisfactory, the Navy decided the Fire Scout didn't meet their needs after all, and cut funding for production in December 2001. However, the development program continued, and Northrop Grumman pitched a range of improved configurations to anyone who was interested. As it turned out, the U.S. Army was very interested, awarding a contract for seven improved "RQ-8B" evaluation machines in late 2003. In 2006, it was redesignated "MQ-8B".
The MQ-8B features four-blade main rotor, in contrast to the larger-diameter three-blade rotor of the RQ-8A, to reduce noise and improve lift capacity and performance. The four-blade rotor had already been evaluated on Fire Scout prototypes. They boost gross takeoff weight by 500 pounds to 3,150 pounds (by 225 kg to 1,430 kg), with payloads of up to 700 pounds (320 kg) for short-range missions.
The MQ-8B is fitted with stub wings as well. The wings will serve both an aerodynamic purpose as well as an armament carriage location, to include weapons such as Hellfire missiles, Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapons, and in particular pods carrying the "Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)", a laser-guided 70 millimeter (2.75 inch) folding-fin rocket, which the Army sees as ideal for the modern battlefield. The Army is also interested in using the Fire Scout to carry up to 200 pounds (90 kilograms) of emergency supplies to troops in the field.
MQ-8B Fire Scout at the RIAT.
The MQ-8B is being modified to permit rapid swap out of payload configurations. The current sensor configuration of a day/night turret with a laser target designator will of course remain an option. Alternate sensor payloads in consideration include a TSARTarget Acquisition Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS), and the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL). The Army wants the Fire Scout to operate as an element of an integrated ground sensor network as well. with Moving Target Indicator (MTI) capability, a multispectral sensor, a SIGINT module, the
Production of the flight test airframes was initiated in April 2006 at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems production plant in Moss Point, Mississippi. The Navy approved low-rate initial production. First flight of the MQ-8B took place on December 18, 2006 at NAS Patuxent River.
The Army interest revived Navy interest in the program, with the Navy ordering eight Sea Scout MQ-8B derivatives for evaluation. In January 2010, the Army terminated its involvement with the Fire Scout contending that the Shadow UAV could meet the Army's needs.
The MQ-8B complements the manned aviation detachments onboard Air Capable ships and is deployed along with either an SH-60B HSL/HSM detachment or a SH-60S HSC detachment. With the planned addition of RADAR, AIS, and weapons, the MQ-8B will provide many of the capabilities currently provided by the SH-60B. It will also give the ship and embarked air detachment greater flexibility in meeting mission demands and will free up the manned aircraft for those missions.Source