The latest version of Navy's Fire Scout reconnaissance drone is being readied for actual takeoff and landing from the deck of a Navy ship at sea, Northrop Grumman announced following recent test takeoffs and landings using a sloped platform at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, California.
"The ... tests are designed to be as real as it gets to actually operating on a Navy ship," Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager at Naval Air Systems Command, said in a statement. "The autonomous MQ-8C Fire Scout system is able to precisely track and understand the roll and pitch of the surface which resembles at-sea conditions."
The same test platform was used previously to test the MQ-8B Fire Scout for ship-based operations. That unmanned aviation system began at-sea testing earlier this year. Northrop Grumman, the Navy's prime contractor on the MQ-8, said initial ship-based flights of the C-model will take place before year's end.
The MQ-8C model has flown 219 flights and 287 hours since its first flight nearly one year ago, on Oct. 31.
The most recent tests on UAS consisted of electromagnetic testing to ensure compatibility with ship-based emitters, such as radar, and the beginning of dynamic interface testing looking at deck handling and communications networks, according to Northrop Grumman.
"These tests enable a validation of our autonomous system and clear the way for dynamic interface testing onboard the ship," said George Vardoulakis, the company's vice president for Medium Range Tactical Systems.
The Navy said the newest model is about 35-feet long, making it about 3-feet longer than the MQ-8B version. Additionally, the 8C will have greater fuel capacity than the B model – 3,200 lbs versus 2,000 lbs – and will be able to carry nearly twice the B’s 3,150-lb payload.
What the MQ-8C does not have – at least yet – are weapons. The Navy began weaponizing the MQ-8B this past summer with laser-guided 2.75 inch, folding-fin rockets called the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System, or APKWS. The Fire Scout outfitted with the system successfully carried out land-based test firings, Smith said at the time.
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