's MQ-8C unmanned helicopter completed its first flight at the Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, Calif., last week. The flight, operated by a ground-based team from the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman
, lasted seven minutes within restricted airspace to validate the aircraft's autonomous control systems. A second flight was conducted for nine minutes reaching an altitude of 500 feet.
[MQ-8C unmanned helicopter completes first flight. Photo, courtesy of Northrop Grumman.]
"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's range is twice the range of its predecessor, the MQ-8B, and also has a payload capacity triple the amount of the MQ-8B with an upgraded engine, larger airframe and additional fuel tanks.
The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is planning for initial operating capability of the MQ-8C for 2016, with possible early deployment next year.