The Navy’s Newest Drone Chopper

That’s right, the Navy is moving ahead with its plan to replace it’s relatively small MQ-8B Fire Scout drone helicopters with an unmanned version of the Bell 407 chopper, dubbed the MQ-8C Fire Scout (sometimes FireX, that will carry increased cargo and more than double the robot chopper’s endurance.

“We’ve been asked to carry more packages on-board the aircraft, we’ve been asked for more endurance especially in high-hot environments, and so because of that we got an urgent requirement to upgrade the aircraft to give us greater endurance,” said Rear Adm. William Shannon III, program executive officer for the Navy’s unmanned aircraft and strike weapons programs during the Navy League’s annual Sea, Air, Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. “As a result of that we are in the process of signing a contract with Northrop Grumman that would ostensibly swap out the airframe [for the Bell 407]; 95-percent of the software remains the same from [the original Fire Scout]; all the links, all the comms systems, all the avionics remain the same. Essentially, what we’ll do is swap out the air vehicle, the airframe, with a Bell 407, and we’ll go from about six-hours of endurance to about 14-hours of endurance. For those of you that are familiar with vertical lift and helicopters, that’s pretty remarkable. About a six-to-seven hundred pound payload and 14 hours of endurance.”

The MQ-8C will replace the smaller MQ-8B as a robot helicopter supporting special operations forces with everything from ISR overwatch and cargo resupply to close air support with rockets and missiles by 2015, according to Shannon.

Click here to read about the recent crashes involving the smaller Fire Scout.

The Bell 407 is basically an upgraded version of the civilian chopper that the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior attack scout helo is based on. I’ve got to wonder, how long will it be before we see other, previously-manned weapon systems like say M1 Abrams tanks become unmanned and sent downrange?

14 Comments on "The Navy’s Newest Drone Chopper"

  1. Did they just indefinitely ground the MQ-8B? Seems like the same software and comms could be a problem.

  2. Seems premature (maybe even reckless) to make what they're essentially calling a bigger Firescout before they figure out what was wrong with the original Firescout.

  3. There Firescout is in shambles with most malfunctioning. And yet they want to go with another UAV. Maybe the Navy could get there UAV skills built up before they go with a BIGGER and alot more expensive UAV which may crash into the sea if not maintained better than the current Firescout.

  4. There are several advantage of going with this UAV.
    1. Use a well tested airframe and systems could be a LOT cheaper than the firescout
    2. Using the Firescout electronic systems on this airframe may help isolate the problems with the Firescout. As it is, the firescout has too many things that are new that it can be harder to isolate the cause of the problems.
    3. It would be interesting to see if they can start to RETROFIT old helos with UAV packages. That is, when a helo gets too old to be safe for pilots, can you gut it an get some more mileage as a UAV for a lot less. It does not have to be the latest and best electronics.

  5. Why not just use a manned Bell 407 chopper ??

  6. use MQ9 , folder wing add the hook and is a done deal quick and effective.

  7. A navy helo without tyres?!?

  8. "how long will it be before we see other, previously-manned weapon systems like say M1 Abrams tanks become unmanned and sent downrange?"

    Never what would be the point. When a tank breaks down you need the crew to do maintanence. Its one of the reasons that crews are so big. The more hands to help the better.

  9. How long before the Navy decides they need UAV versions of the Chinook?

  10. stephen russell | April 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply

    Needs NOTAR & or ducted tail rotor & use FireScout for Spec Ops & Gunship role, light Recon?
    Still viable with bigger weapons payload?

  11. The 14 hour endurance (NG say 15 hours) seems pretty remarkable for a helicopter.

    Is this why drones keep crashing? No one bothers checking or inspecting anything anymore?

  12. This is really awesome !!!! I wanna meet the engineers who are working up for this !

  13. "I’ve got to wonder, how long will it be before we see other, previously-manned weapon systems like say M1 Abrams tanks become unmanned and sent downrange?"

    BOLO!!!!

  14. Someday certain select people will be able to control one of these right from home taking direction finding and firing orders from the at home commanders. But one will get shot down and wind up in China.

    Wonder whatever happened to that drone that the Iranians got a hold of a couple of months ago?

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