Extra blade boosts Fire Scout UAV

Northrop Grumman has successfully tested a four-blade rotor upgrade that will increase the performance of the US Navy’s Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing unmanned air vehicle.

Northrop Grumman and Schweizer Aircraft Corporation have successfully tested a four-blade rotor upgrade that will increase the performance of the US Navy RQ-8A Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

The upgrade is said to be compatible with the existing Fire Scout engine and transmission, and requires no major mechanical or structural changes to the airframe. Fire Scout currently uses a three-blade rotor configuration.

The Northrop Grumman/Schweizer team conducted ground, hover, taxi and flight evaluation of the four-bladed rotor hub mounted on a Schweizer Model 333 helicopter at Schweizer’s Horseheads, N.Y., facility during the last week of March. To date, the team has conducted six flights with the aircraft reaching speeds up to 90 knots and altitudes up to 1,500 feet.

‘These test flights mark the latest success in what has been flawless flight test program for the Fire Scout system,’ said T. Scott Winship, Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout program manager. ‘Since we began our test program last May, the US Navy/Northrop Grumman team has conducted 40 successful test flights.’ Preparations are being made to begin shipboard testing in April, he added.

According to Winship, the continuing flight test program has successfully demonstrated Fire Scout’s ability to take off, fly, navigate and land autonomously while collecting and disseminating imagery from its onboard sensor payload.Flight tests to demonstrate laser targeting and designation are scheduled in May. A weapons delivery demonstration is planned for later this year.

Fully autonomous, Fire Scout can normally fly at altitudes up to 20,000 feet. Its advanced payload can provide intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance and precise targeting information to tactical units either onboard ship or deployed on the ground.

The air vehicle’s communications suite provides a simultaneous voice/data communications relay capability that reportedly reaches much farther than current ‘line of sight’ systems.