Three Good, Four Better; Is Eight Enough?
Northrop Grumman Corporation's Integrated Systems sector and
teammate Schweizer Aircraft Corp. have extended their string of
successes in developing a new four-blade rotor for the U.S. Navy's
RQ-8 Fire Scout vertical tactical unmanned aerial vehicle
The two companies conducted a successful test flight of the new
rotor on a Fire Scout manned prototype helicopter April 18 at
Schweizer's Elmira (NY), facility, including ground, hover, taxi
and flight evaluations.
The new four-blade rotor will extend Fire Scout's range, payload
and endurance. To date, the Northrop/Schweizer team has conducted
20 test flights with the new rotor hub mounted on a Schweizer Model
For the latest flight, the rotor hub with four Fire Scout blades
flew a 45-minute test flight that included hover in and out of
ground effect, traffic pattern flight, and an up-and-away flight to
2500 feet at 108 knots.
"The performance and flight properties of the aircraft were
exactly as predicted," said Carl Olson, Schweizer's test pilot. "We
set a speed limit of 108 knots for this first flight and at that
speed, the helicopter was definitely more stable and more
responsive with the four-blade system."
Upgrading the Fire Scout system with the
four-blade rotor will not require any major mechanical or
structural changes. The new configuration operates with the VTUAV's
existing transmission and engine.
The Navy and Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems operating unit
began the Fire Scout system's flight test program in May 2002. To
date, they have conducted 40 successful flights, with the 3-blade
design (lower photo). Preparations are now being made to begin
land-based take-off and recovery flight-testing with the UAV Common
Automatic Recovery System. This testing, scheduled to occur in May
at the Webster Field UAV test facility at Naval Air Station
Patuxent River (MD), is a precursor to shipboard testing in August
The Fire Scout flight test program continues to expand the air
vehicle's flight envelope and refine its collection and
dissemination of imagery from the onboard sensor payload. Flight
tests to demonstrate laser targeting and designation are also
scheduled in May. A weapons delivery demonstration is planned for
later this year.