Aboard the USS Jason Dunham, a Navy destroyer, 32 successful takeoffs and landings have been performed with Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Fire Scout helicopter. This aircraft is a modified version of the Bell 407, which is a utility helicopter that has been used by many countries. However, this version of the helicopter operates without a live pilot.
According to Live Science, the MQ-8C and the smaller MQ-8B do not carry operators. Instead, pilots operate these helicopters from a distance by remote control. The MQ-8B has been used by the Navy since 2009; however, the newer MQ-8C is able to lift twice as much weight and is capable of staying in the air for twice as long.
The MQ-8C, also called the Fire Scout, is a four blade, single-engine helicopter that can reach altitudes of 20,000 feet and fly at airspeeds of up to 110 knots. The aircraft weighs 3,150 pounds and is powered with a Rolls-Royce heavy fuel turboshaft engine, according to Daily Mail.
The Navy has two MQ-8C aircraft and will eventually order 40 more. They will be used to carry an array of surveillance, reconnaissance, and target acquisition sensors in order to respond to demands for enhanced situational awareness.
The superior capabilities of the MQ-8C will give the Navy an unmanned helicopter with increased endurance and let ship commanders have a longer on-station presence. This drone can also be used for search and targeting missions. Unlike some other drones used by the military, the Fire Scout does not require an aircraft carrier to operate.
Captain Jeff Dodge, Fire Scout program manager at Naval Air Systems Command, stated, “The MQ-8C Fire Scout’s flights from the USS Dunham represent a significant Navy milestone. This is the first sea-based flight of the MQ-8C and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer.”
The U.S. military has other drone helicopters as well. In 2011, the K-MAX drone was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011. It is used to carry equipment to soldiers in remote locations.
Defense contractors are also working on other types of helicopter drones, including a Black Hawk drone. In addition, medical transport helicopter drones are being developed, as well as vertical takeoff and landing drones that can hover like a helicopter and fly as fast as an airplane.