Fully autonomous, the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout family of Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (VTUAVs) provides U.S. and coalition ground-based forces with real-time surveillance feeds. The MQ-8 Fire Scout amplifies a ground unit's situational awareness and provides precision targeting. Managed by the U.S. Navy's PMA-263 Unmanned Vehicles Program Office based in Patuxent River, Maryland, the MQ-8 Fire Scout program delivers immediate Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) data to Navy and Army personnel.
The first Fire Scout model delivered to American armed forces is the RQ-8A. In 2000, the U.S. Navy granted San Diego-based Northrop Grumman-Ryan Aeronautical an engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract for the creation of a vertical take-off and landing tactical unmanned air vehicle. The resulting RQ-8A is based on the piston-powered Schweizer 330 light utility and trainer helicopter.
The second incarnation of the Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle is designated the MQ-8B Fire Scout. Based on the legacy Schweitzer 333 light helicopter (rebranded in 2009 as the Sikorsky S-333) with over 20 million proven flight hours, the MQ-8B Fire Scout is specially developed for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program.
In 2004, the U.S. Navy also procured the 2nd-generation Fire Scouts. The MQ-8B units operating for the two branches are structurally the same. However, the payloads differ. The default payload for the U.S. Navy includes the FLIR Systems AN/AAQ-22D BriteStar II target designation system which incorporates EO/IR sensors and a laser range finder.
The U.S. Navy expects to procure a total of 168 MQ-8 Fire Scouts through the fiscal year 2032. Out of this expected total, 23 units are the MQ-8B Fire Hawks delivered during the period 2007 to 2011. The remaining 145 units will be the new MQ-8C variant currently under development by Northrop Grumman.The MQ-8C is ten feet longer than the B variant, flies ten knots faster, and carries 400 pounds more. Deliveries of the new-build MQ-8Cs will start in the fiscal year 2019.
As of this summer, the U.S. Navy maintains a fleet of 21 MQ-8B Fire Scouts. In 2011, one Fire Scout crashed off the African coast while another crashed in Afghanistan. The Naval squad of Fire Scouts have clocked in over 5,000 flight hours in Afghanistan. The MQ-8s are deployed aboard frigates and littoral combat ships.
The following are the general characteristics of the MQ-8 Fire Scout:
|Fuselage Length||23.95 ft (7.3 m)|
|Fuselage Width||6.20 ft (1.9 m)|
|Length with Blades Folded Forward||30.03 ft (9.2 m)|
|Rotor Diameter||27.50 ft (8.4 m)|
|Height (Top of Tail Antenna)||9.71 ft (2.9 m)|
|Gross Weight||3,150 lbs (1428.8 kg)|
|Power Plant||Rolls-Royce 250-C20W turboshaft engine|
|Ceiling||20,000 ft (6.1 km)|
|Total Flight Time with Baseline Payload||8+ hours|
|Total Flight Time with EO/IR + Radar||7+ hours|
|Total Flight Time with Maximum Payload||5+ hours|
|Payloads||EO/IR/LRF/Mine Detector/Comm Relay/Maritime Radar|