STATUS: Active, Limited Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Northrop Grumman / Bell - USA
LENGTH: 41.67 feet (12.7 meters)
WIDTH: 35.01 feet (10.67 meters)
HEIGHT: 11.68 feet (3.56 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 5,952 pounds (2,700 kilograms)
ENGINE: 1 x Allison 250-C47B turboshaft engine developing 813 shaft horsepower to a four-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor.
SPEED (MAX): 162 miles-per-hour (260 kilometers-per-hour; 140 knots)
RANGE: 373 miles (600 kilometers; 324 nautical miles)
CEILING: 18,701 feet (5,700 meters; 3.54 miles)
Detailing the development and operational history of the Northrop Grumman / Bell Fire-X (MQ-8C) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / Autonomous Overwater Resupply Platform.
Entry last updated on 1/24/2018.
Authored by Dan Alex. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
The Fire-X is being jointly developed as a full-size Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) by Northrop Grumman and Bell Helicopter. The vehicle is based on a heavily modified airframe concerning the Bell 407 multipurpose commercial / light utility helicopter. The original Bell 407 was introduced in 1996 with production having surpassed 1,000 units in 2011. The Fire-X development, therefore, retains much of the basic layout of the Bell 407 including its four-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor configuration. Essentially, the aircraft IS a Bell 407 though with a shrouded canopy housing the required avionics (the equipment based on the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV development). The undercarriage remains the simple two-point skid assembly and the engine is mounted in the upper section of the fuselage roof, a shaft driving the tail rotor through the empennage stem. First flight of the Fire-X was recorded on December 20th, 2010.
Unlike other traditional, highly-publicized fixed-wing UAVs such as the "Predator", the Fire-X is part of a growing class of UAVs with vertical-minded, "helicopter-like" qualities that enable the vehicle to take-off and land from confined spaces such as the flight deck of an ocean-going, space-strapped ship. The intended role of the Fire-X is to provide at-sea replenishment to US Navy vessels.
The Fire-X is being developed in conjunction with the dimensionally smaller Northrop Grumman MQ-8 "Fire Scout" for possible procurement by the United States Navy. However, the Fire Scout makes use of the Schweizer three-person S-333 series light helicopter which is, of course, appropriately modified for the UAV role. Conversely, the Fire-X represents a dimensionally larger and more powerful unmanned alternative showcasing double the range of the Fire Scout as well as up to three times its payload-carrying capacity. The Fire-X has already proven itself through rigorous and extensive testing originating out of the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona to which some 250 flights has already been recorded. The system was trialed through autonomous actions, take-off and landing operations and various payload configurations of the external and internal kind. Testing altitudes were all restricted to sub-20,000 feet though this is also in line with the service ceiling of the original Bell 407 series. Performance figures for the Fire-X development include a 24-hour flight endurance window with a payload hauling capability of up to 1,000lb though use of an internal cargo bay or a sling-line external approach.
Under the "Fire-X" name, the aircraft was intended as a proof-of-concept demonstration vehicle to which will evolve the production-quality "MQ-8C" form for the US Navy (should all go as planned). As of this writing (2013), the Fire-X will be transferred to the U.S. Navy in the coming months for formal evaluation under the "MQ-8C Fire Scout Endurance Upgrade Program" beginning in late 2013 out of Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. The program has also evaluated the Boeing A160T Hummingbird as well as the Lockheed/Kaman K-Max unmanned vertical systems.
It is suggested that the official MQ-8C may reach operational status with the US Navy sometime in 2014 with six low-rate production vehicles completed. The US Navy intends to procure as many as 28 MQ-8C examples over the span of three years. It is not out of the project's scope that the Fire X/MQ-8C eventually be armed with rocket pods or guided missiles (including the Raytheon "Griffin" mini-missile) for a more aggressive battlefield role.
January 2018 - Some 19 MQ-8B aircraft have been delivered by Northrop to the United States Navy to date.
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Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.
Relative Maximum Speed Rating
This entry's maximum listed speed (162mph).
Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
Graph showcases the Northrop Grumman / Bell Fire-X (MQ-8C)'s operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units