Autopilot

US Navy's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. / Photo by: U.S Navy via Wikimedia Commons

 

The autonomous helicopter model MQ-8C Fire Scout successfully completed its evaluation test from the littoral combat ship, USS Coronado. The frigate's successful test occurred at the 2018 Royal International Air Tattoo in Europe.

Fire Scout MQ-8C was built due to the need of the US Department of Defense for a larger autonomous frigate with a larger range and more carrying capacity -- features that were not provided by its predecessor, the MQ-8B. 

Its predecessor, MQ-8B, has a vehicle endurance of more than five hours and a capacity of 12 nonstop hours of operations within 110 nautical miles of the launch site. But the MQ-8C, which resembles the Bell 407 commercial helicopter, has a greater range of 150 nautical miles and a payload of at least 700 pounds.

In 2017, the manufacturer and the US Navy determined the airworthiness, the capability to take off from a ship, and the ability to land on landing zones of the MQ-8C. The success of the Dynamic Interface testing led to the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Now, the aircraft succeeded the IOT&E test in Europe.

“Bell did a great job of taking weight out of the aircraft…and the only modification we needed was the dual-channel FADEC [full-authority digital engine control]. That is now standard in the commercial aircraft,” said Jack Thomas, director of mission engineering at Fire Scout.

All Fire Scout choppers can land on prepared and unprepared landing zones, thanks to the Unmanned Common Autonomous Recovery System. The system utilizes a millimetric wave radar to get the ship into the right position. A safety spectator may also suggest the frigate to attempt a landing in another zone in case the initial zone is not safe. While the aircraft is completely autonomous, operators may control it using a mouse.

The US Navy plans to create a fleet of MQ-8C choppers that will be combined with the manned frigate, the Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk. They also plan to integrate the fleet into the T-ESB-4 expeditionary mobile base vessels.