U.S. Navy acquires MQ-8C Fire Scout drones based on the Bell 407

MQ-8C Fire Scout
The MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter conducts flight test at Naval Air Patuxent River Webster Field Annex in Saint Inigoes, Maryland. (U.S. Navy photo)

It is interesting that a drone the U.S. Navy is buying by the dozens is named “Fire Scout”. It is probably only a matter of time before large drones like this one and the K-MAX which has already been demonstrated for fire managers are seen routinely over wildfires hauling supplies, equipment, and providing intelligence.

The Fire Scout, based on the Bell 407, can remain on station for up to twelve hours depending on the payload. The Navy plans to purchase 38 of the Northrop Grumman produced aircraft.

The Department of the Interior is rapidly developing drone capability for aerial ignition and gathering intelligence on fires. An aircraft like this or the K-MAX that could haul hundreds of pounds of supplies, serve as a radio or cell phone repeater, and provide real time video, might be the next giant leap for the DOI. Of course smaller drones can also perform intelligence gathering and communications tasks.

Below is information from the Naval Air System Command:


Published July 8, 2019


NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md — The Navy declared initial operational capability of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter June 28 clearing the way for fleet operations and training.

The MQ-8 Fire Scout is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

“This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team,” said Capt. Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager. “We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet.”

The MQ-8C variant is an endurance and payload upgrade to its predecessor, the MQ-8B, offering up to twelve hours on station depending on payload, and incorporates the commercial Bell 407 airframe.

The Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout complements the manned *MH-60 helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations.  It provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the Navy.

The MQ-8C has flown over 1,500 hours with more than 700 sorties to date. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue MQ-8C production deliveries to the Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft.

The MQ-8C will be equipped with an upgraded radar that allows for a larger field of view and a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground moving target indicator (GMTI).   It will deploy with LCS in fiscal year 2021 while the MQ-8B conducts operations aboard LCS in 5th and 7th Fleets.

*The Sikorsky SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk is a twin turboshaft engine, multi-mission United States Navy helicopter based on the United States Army UH-60 Black Hawk and a member of the Sikorsky S-70 family.

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