August 24, 2011: The U.S. Department of Defense has approved the procurement of a larger version of the 1.4 ton MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAV. The new version, the MQ-8C would be based on the larger, 2.7 ton Bell 407 manned helicopter. The current MQ-8 is based on the 1.15 ton Schweitzer 330 manned helicopter. The proposed MQ-8C has been under development as the Fire-X, by the same firm that produces the MQ-8B. If navy leaders approve, the MQ-8C could be in service by 2014. At the moment, only 24 are to be bought, and the navy would continue buying the MQ-8B.
Proponents of the MQ-8C want a larger model because that would give it more endurance, greater stability in bad weather, and the ability to carry more weapons. The MQ-8B can carry 90 kg (200 pounds) of sensors and weapons. The MQ-8C would be able to carry about five times more weight of sensors and weapons. The MQ-8B has an endurance of eight hours and a cruise speed of 200 kilometers an hour. The MQ-8C would have up to three times the endurance, and about the same cruise speed.
It’s already been decided to arm the MQ-8B with the Griffin (a 16 kg/35 pound guided missile with a range of 8,000 meters) and the 11.4 kg (25 pound) 70mm guided missile (based on the World War II era 70mm unguided rocket) with a range of 6,000 meters. The MQ-8C could carry heavier weapons, like the 48.2 kg (106 pounds) Hellfire missile.
Fire-X/MQ-8C will be ready so quickly because it is using a lot of the MQ-8B technology. While the military has been slow to adopt helicopter UAVs, there is sufficient interest to keep the manufacturers at work on new models. The navy kept Fire Scout, when the army dropped it, because helicopters are more practical on most navy ships (for landings and takeoffs.) Navy Fire Scouts have completed months of successful use on a frigate (in both the Atlantic and Pacific) and were recently in action over Libya.
Another helicopter manufacturer, Kaman, modified its K-MAX manned helicopter to meet U.S. Marine Corps requirements for a supply helicopter UAV. The resulting Kaman K-MAX UAV is a 5.4 ton helicopter with a cruising speed of 148 kilometers an hour and an endurance of over six hours. It can carry up to 2.7 tons slung underneath.
Already out there for over a decade is the A160T, a three ton helicopter, able to fly under remote control or under its own pre-programmed control. It is based on the Robinson R22 manned helicopter. It has a top speed of 255 kilometers an hour, and was originally designed to operate for up to 40 hours carrying a payload of 136 kg (300 pounds).
There are some smaller helicopter UAVs, that are not based on commercial vehicles.