Navy’s drone helicopter makes first destroyer flight

A helicopter landing on the flightdeck of a destroyer is hardly news – unless it’s the US Navy’s latest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C became the first unmanned helicopter to operate from a US destroyer on December 16. Under guidance of the ship’s ground control station, the MQ-8C made 22 takeoffs and 22 precision landings on the guided missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) off the coast of Virginia.

The MQ-8C has already completed a year of land-based testing since its first flight from Naval Base Ventura County in California on October 31, 2013. Based on the Bell 407 airframe, the MQ-8C uses an improved version of the autonomous avionics from the smaller MQ-8B, and is powered by a Rolls-Royce 250-C47E.

Designed as a dynamic, multi-purpose unmanned helicopter, the Navy has 28 on order. When delivered, each will have a range of 150 nmi (170 mi, 280 km) an endurance of 12 hours, and will be able to carry a 318 kg (701 lb). The helicopter is intended for unmanned resupply missions, support for special forces, and other missions requiring a longer on-station presence. These dynamic interface tests are an essential part in clearing the operational envelope of the system and are proving the system’s ability to operate off any air-capable ship, says George Vardoulakis, vice president for medium range tactical systems, Northrop Grumman Aerospace System. We are on track to validate all of the critical performance parameters of this Navy asset and ready the system for deployment and operational use.

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