Fire Scout Lands On Frigate McInerney

By Amy Butler

The U.S. Navy’s developmental MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft has made its first series of landings on the Frigate McInerney.

The tests, which wrapped up April 28, included four flights from the ship over three days, Capt. Tim Dunigan, the Navy’s Fire Scout program director, said May 4 during a press briefing at the annual Navy League Sea, Air and Space conference in Washington. “The aircraft is doing everything we want it to do,” he said.

The tests took place off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla. A series of flight-tests in Chesapeake Bay in February allowed the 3,150-pound gross-takeoff-weight aircraft to hover close to the ship and execute approaches. Winds exceeded the allowance for landing at that time.

For this recent set of trials, painted markings took the place of the metal grid that will serve as the landing pad for Fire Scout.

The McInerney tests are taking place in advance of more trials slated for the Fire Scout’s future host platform, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Fire Scout is expected to begin shipboard tests on the LCS-1, the Freedom, made by Lockheed Martin/Marinette Marine, by the second quarter of 2010, Dunigan said.

A schedule isn’t yet firm for tests on the first General Dynamics LCS, Dunigan said.

This fall, Fire Scout will deploy on the McInerney to support counternarcotics operations in U.S. Southern Command.

Derived from the commercial Schweitzer 333, the four-bladed Fire Scout carries an electro-optical/infrared sensor, laser pointer and range finder. The aircraft is slated to get a radar, but Dunigan says the Navy hasn’t yet selected which model. Up to three Fire Scouts are expected to fit in each slot designated for an H-60 onboard the LCS.

The aircraft is designed to support anti-surface warfare and minehunting missions handled by this new ship class. A communications relay could follow to support shifting data to and from the H-60.

Fire Scout’s operational range is about 110 nautical miles from the ship, with an endurance of about eight hours.

The Navy has two fully instrumented development test models in service. The total buy for the Navy is expected to be 168 aircraft. The Army also is buying the rotorcraft for its Future Combat Systems program, and Northrop Grumman says there is international interest as well.

Initial operational capability for the system is expected in 2011. Flyaway cost for the aircraft is about $7 million, Dunigan says.

Photo: US Navy, Video: Northrop Grumman

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