Naval Air: Perry And The Fire Scout

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October 12, 2009: The U.S. Navy's new helicopter UAV, the MQ-8B (formerly the RQ-8) Fire Scout, is being assigned to another class of ships. The RQ-8A was originally developed for use on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and was due to enter service this year. But the LCS is behind schedule and the Fire Scout isn't, so the navy is assigning the Fire Scout to other ships. The first  ship class to carry helicopter UAV is a Perry class frigate, the USS McInerney (FFG-8). This ship is assigned to the 4th Fleet, and will be operating in the Caribbean, chasing drug smugglers. This will give the Fire Scout some real world experience, although not with the fire Hellfire missiles it can carry. Prior to this assignment, the Fire Scout underwent 110 takeoffs and landings on the frigate, and 600 hours of flight testing.

The MQ-8B can stay in the air for up to eight hours at a time (five hour missions are more common), has a top speed of 230 kilometers an hour, and can operate up to 230 kilometers from its controller (on land, or a ship.) The MQ-8B is still going to be used on the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). 

The U.S. Army is buying the very similar RQ-8B, which will be particularly useful supporting combat operations in urban areas. Both versions carry day and night cameras, GPS and targeting gear (laser range finders and designators). The RQ-8 is based on a two seat civilian helicopter (the Schweizer Model 333), and has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.5 tons. With its rotors folded (for storage on ships), the RQ-8 is 23 feet long and 9.4 feet high. Max payload is 600 pounds, meaning it would probably carry hundred pound Hellfire, or 44 pound Viper Strike missiles. Each RQ-8 UAV costs about $8 million (including a share of the ground control equipment and some spares.) The flight control software enables the RQ-8 to land and take off automatically.

 


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