Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 2: Modern UAVs
Copyright © 2004-2009 Andreas Parsch

Northrop Grumman RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout

After the U.S. Navy had withdrawn from the RQ-6 Outrider program in 1998, it looked instead for a VTUAV (Vertical Take-Off and Landing UAV) to replace the RQ-2 Pioneer. The selection fell on the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout vehicle, and in February 2000 an EMD (Engineering and Manufacturing Development) contract for one Fire Scout UAV system with two air vehicles was awarded. The VTUAV, which had flown for the first time in unmanned configuration in January 2000, was designated RQ-8A. The first LRIP (Low-Rate Initial Production) contract for Fire Scout was awarded in May 2001, and the first production-representative RQ-8A flew in May 2002.

Photo: Northrop Grumman

The RQ-8A is based on the Schweizer Model 330SP manned light helicopter. It is powered by a derated Rolls-Royce/Allison 250-C20W turboshaft engine which drives a three-bladed rotor. The blades can be folded for compact stowage of the UAV. The Fire Scout is equipped with a GPS-based navigation system for autonomous operations, and the GCS (Ground Control Station) can control three UAVs simultaneously. The line-of-sight range of the Ku-Band TCDL (Tactical Common Datalink) is about 280 km (150 nm). The payload for the reconnaissance and targeting mission is an integrated Northrop Grumman EO/IR/LDRF (Electro-Optical/Infrared/Laser Designator & Rangefinder) system.

Fire Scout system tests, including ship-board operations from USS Denver (LPD 9), began in late 2002. Originally the U.S. Navy had announced that the Fire Scout program will be cancelled after completion of the first LRIP batch, but this decision has since been rescinded and the program continued.

Photo: Northrop Grumman

Early into the test program, Northrop Grumman proposed an improved version called Sea Scout. The upgrade would include a four-blade rotor for increased payload and mission duration, and the ability to carry precision-guided air-to-surface missiles. In January 2004 the MQ-8B (designated as such in June 2005), generally similar to the Sea Scout proposal, has been selected by the U.S. Army for its FCS UAS (Future Combat System Unmanned Aerial System) requirement. Compared to the RQ-8A, the MQ-8B features a new four-blade main rotor with improved airfoils and has increased payload capacity and endurance. The U.S. Navy has selected the MQ-8B to support its LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) vessels, and the total (Army/Navy combined) requirement is for up to 192 MQ-8B aircraft.

Photo: Northrop Grumman

The MQ-8B program is currently in the EMD (Engineering & Manufacturing Development) phase, and the first flight of the prototype occurred in December 2006. In June 2007, the U.S. Navy's MQ-8B entered low-rate initial production. Because of delays in the LCS program, the Navy announced in early 2008 that the MQ-8B will initially be deployed on other ships. IOC (Initial Operational Capability) is expected for 2009.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for RQ-8A, MQ-8B:

Length6.98 m (22 ft 11 in)
Rotor diameter8.38 m (27 ft 6 in)
Height2.87 m (9 ft 5 in)
Weightmax: 1200 kg (2650 lb); empty: 661 kg (1457 lb)max: 1430 kg (3150 lb)
Speed231 km/h (144 mph)
Ceiling6100 m (20000 ft)
Endurance5 h> 8 h
PropulsionRolls-Royce/Allison 250-C20W turboshaft; 310 kW (420 shp)

Main Sources

[1] Kenneth Munson (ed.): "Jane's Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Targets, Issue 15", Jane's, 2000
[2] Tom Kaminski: "The Future is Here", article in Combat Aircraft Vol. 4, No. 6, 2003
[3] Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Website
[4] "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap, 2005-2030", Office of the Secretary of Defense, August 2005

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 2

Last Updated: 5 February 2009