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Navy's newest unmanned helo makes first flight

Oct. 31, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The MQ-8C Fire Scout completes its first day of flying Oct. 31 at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout completes its first day of flying Oct. 31 at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif. (Navy)
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The MQ-8C Fire Scout — an unmanned helicopter that’s larger and faster than the MQ-8Bs already in use by the Navy — made its first flight Thursday at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., staying airborne for seven minutes.

The Fire Scout took off just after noon Pacific time, according to a Naval Air Systems Command news release, flying “in restricted airspace to validate the autonomous control systems.” In a second flight Thursday afternoon, the aircraft flew in a pattern above the Point Mugu airfield, reaching an altitude of 500 feet, according to the release.

“It is a big accomplishment for the integrated government and industry team to fly this air vehicle for the first time,” Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager at Naval Air Systems Command, said in the release.

The MQ-8C is about 10 feet longer than the 31.7-foot B variant and can fly 140 knots, 30 faster than the smaller aircraft. It can stay in the air longer — 11 to 14 hours, compared with four to five hours for the smaller variant — and has an internal payload capacity of 1,000 pounds, 400 more than the 8B.

“The C will have approximately twice the capability of the B — time on station, payloads — and provides for additional growth, including radar,” Smith said in an interview with Defense News earlier this year.

The larger helicopter won’t replace the MQ-8B — both will continue to be used in the fleet. The larger Fire Scout’s initial shipboard tests will be done on destroyers, according to the release, but future missions could involve deployments aboard littoral combat ships.

It’s expected to join the fleet by 2016, but it could deploy as soon as next year, the release said.

The smaller Fire Scout has been used for surveillance missions over Afghanistan and anti-piracy missions off the African coast. One crashed over Libya in 2011. It’s now operating from the frigate Samuel B. Roberts, from which it set a flight-hour record of 333 hours in June.

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