The Navy’s newest variant of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter completed its first day of flying Oct. 31 at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, Calif.
At 12:05 p.m. PDT, the MQ-8C Fire Scout took off and flew for seven minutes in restricted airspace to validate the autonomous control systems. The second flight that took off at 2:39 p.m. was also flown in a pattern around the airfield, reaching an altitude of 500 feet.
The MQ-8C air vehicle upgrade will provide longer endurance, range and greater payload capability than the MQ-8B, which is currently operating aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).
The MQ-8C is a larger air vehicle, has a range of 150 nautical miles and a payload capacity of more than 700 pounds.
“It is a big accomplishment for the integrated government and industry team to fly this air vehicle for the first time,” said Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager at Patuxent River, Md. “MQ-8C will require fewer aircraft [than the MQ-8B] to operate at maximum performance and will meet the U.S. Africa and Special Operation Commands urgent needs requirement.”
The MQ-8Cs will conduct initial shipboard testing on guided-missile destroyers (DDG)-class ships, but the program is looking into supporting littoral combat ship (LCS) missions. The Navy will continue to use the MQ-8B as it phases in the MQ-8C. Lessons learned from MQ-8B have been applied to MQ-8C variant, Smith said.
Initial operating capability for the MQ-8C is planned for 2016, with a potential for early deployment in 2014.