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Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / Autonomous Overwater Resupply Platform

United States | 2019

"The Northrop Grumman-Bell Fire-X UAV is intended for autonomous overwater cargo resupply of at-sea U.S. naval forces."

Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited: 10/30/2020 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
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.

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January 2018 - Some 19 MQ-8B aircraft have been delivered by Northrop to the United States Navy to date.

June 2019 - Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the MQ-8C was achieved in June of 2019. Deployment aboard U.S. Navy littoral combat ships is expected during 2021.

December 2019 - Bell is being asked by the U.S. Navy to prototype its MQ-8C unmanned helicopter with weapons. Bell was awarded a contract for this work in late-November 2019 following a period of studies and feasibility involving the current airframe design.

December 2019 - The United States Navy is expecting a total of 38 MQ-8C examples to be delivered in all.

February 2020 - The United States Navy has labeled the MQ-8C as "not operationally effective" after evaluations.

Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / Autonomous Overwater Resupply Platform.
1 x Allison 250-C47B turboshaft engine developing 813 shaft horsepower to a four-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor.
162 mph
260 kph | 140 kts
Max Speed
18,701 ft
5,700 m | 4 miles
Service Ceiling
373 miles
600 km | 324 nm
Operational Range
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / Autonomous Overwater Resupply Platform.
41.7 ft
12.70 m
O/A Length
35.0 ft
(10.67 m)
O/A Width
11.7 ft
(3.56 m)
O/A Height
2,646 lb
(1,200 kg)
Empty Weight
5,952 lb
(2,700 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / Autonomous Overwater Resupply Platform .
C-model has been proposed with support for AGM-114 'Hellfire' Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rockets, general rocket pods, gun pods, depth charges, anti-ship missiles, and possibly precision-guided bombs and torpedoes.
Notable series variants as part of the Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X) family line.
Fire-X - Base Developmental Series Designation.
MQ-8B - Improved evaluation models.
MQ-8C - Designation for production-quality Fire-X.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 30 Units

Contractor(s): Northrop Grumman / Bell - USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (162mph).

Graph Average of 150 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X)
Image from the United States Navy.
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Image of the Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X)
Image copyright official Northrop Grumman marketing material.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Northrop Grumman / Bell MQ-8 (Fire-X) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / Autonomous Overwater Resupply Platform appears in the following collections:
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