POINT MAGU, Calif., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- A new variant of Northrop Grumman's MQ-8 unmanned helicopter has completed first flight testing to validate its autonomous control systems.
The MQ-8C Fire Scout, designed for longer flight endurance and increased payload, flew twice at U.S. Naval Base Ventura in California, the company said -- for 7 minutes and then 9 minutes.
"First flight is a critical step in maturing the MQ-8C Fire Scout endurance upgrade before using the system operationally next year," said Capt. Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager, Naval Air Systems Command. "The systems we've developed to allow Fire Scout to operate from an air-capable ship have already amassed more than 10,000 flight hours with the MQ-8B variant. This system's evolution enhances how unmanned air systems will support maritime commanders."
The MQ-8C has a larger airframe than the B variant, additional fuel tanks and an engine upgrade. It will be able to fly for as long as 12 hours or carry as much as 2,600 pounds.
The B variant is being used by the Navy from frigates conducting anti-piracy operations and has also been used in Afghanistan for surveillance and targeting support operations.
"Operating the MQ-8B Fire Scout from Navy ships has proved extremely successful. During at-sea deployments, operators saw the need for a system that carried the same intelligence-gathering capabilities of the MQ-8B, but fly longer and carry additional payloads," said George Vardoulakis, Northrop Grumman's vice president for medium range tactical systems.