Navy to Test Northrop Grumman’s Robotic Helicopter

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helicopter must adjust to the ship’s pitching, rolling, deck as it descends for a landing.

The landings relied on technology developed by Sierra Nevada of Sparks, NV, that uses a millimeter-wave RF system to transmit data from the ship’s navigation system and accelerometers to the helicopter. The Fire Scout made nine landings over two days—and none of the landings were more than 15 inches apart.

Fire Scout Scenario

Fire Scout Scenario

Those tests, however, were aboard the Nashville, a big ship the Navy calls an amphibious transport dock. The frigate McInerney is a smaller and lighter warship that represents a bigger challenge for autonomous landings. After the technical evaluation is completed off the coast of Florida, VanBrabant says the Navy plans a final series of operational evaluations aboard the McInerney.

“This summer will be the pinnacle of testing, in which the Navy takes the unmanned system to sea and operates as if they’re on a regular operation,” VanBrabant says. If those trials prove successful, VanBrabant says the Navy plans to deploy a Fire Scout aboard the McInerney this fall.

The Navy’s recent $40 million order calls for Northrop Grumman to deliver three more Fire Scouts and related equipment. They will be the 10th, 11th and 12th robotic helicopters to be produced by Northrop Grumman. Van Brabant estimates the Navy has spent roughly $400 million on development since 1999, when work on the unmanned helicopter began. Now, after so much time has passed and work has been done, he says, “We’re very eager to get the aircraft out to the fleet.”

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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