FORT WORTH, TEXAS (December 15, 2010) - Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc. company (NYSE: TXT) and Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announce the successful test of Fire-X, a new vertical unmanned system.
Development and demonstration of Fire-X is funded by Northrop Grumman and Bell Helicopter. Both companies began work on this program in early 2010 and completed its first fully autonomous flight at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., less than a year after development began on the project.
"We are thrilled with the progress we have made on the Fire-X program," said Dr Cathy Ferrie, Director of Bell Helicopter's Xworx. "From initial concept, to flying a prototype was extremely quick due in large part to how well the Northrop Grumman-Bell Helicopter team worked together."
To get to the first unmanned flight, the team followed a strict timeline to "power on" the vehicle in September at Bell's Xworx facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Modifications were then accomplished to convert the Bell 407 helicopter into an unmanned vehicle.
Additional flight tests and reliability data gathering will be conducted next week along with a series of limited internal cargo demonstrations. Integration and flight of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensor payloads and cargo carrying capability demonstrations are planned next year.
"The expertise of Northrop Grumman in unmanned systems combined with Bell's rotorcraft knowledge is what makes Fire-X so successful," said George Spongberg, Northrop Grumman Fire-X program manager. "We've been able to share key insights throughout development - allowing a seamless transition of autonomous flight systems software to a new airframe." The Fire-X system integrates the mature systems developed from the U.S. Navy's MQ-8B Fire Scout program with the Bell 407 helicopter, a FAA-certified helicopter that's been in commercial service since 1996.
The system is designed to carry ISR sensors and offer military users with a useful load of more than 3,200 pounds - for fuel, payloads and/or enhanced cargo hauling capabilities. Fire-X will be able to conduct ISR missions up to 16 hours long and various cargo missions in support of U.S. Marine Corps requirements.
"The first flight of the Fire-X demonstrator marks a milestone for the Bell - Northrop team," said Charles Shepard, Manager, Technology Business Development for Bell Helicopter. "In a matter of a few months, we went from two separate flyable systems, to an integrated system that will be able to provide our customers with a flexible, low cost, rapidly adaptable unmanned rotorcraft for multi-cargo, multi-sensor and multi-use from a ship and from land."
A piloted ferry flight to Yuma was completed Nov. 30 to position the aircraft for its first unmanned flight. The Fire-X demonstration aircraft will still retain the ability to be optionally piloted.
Source: Bell Helicopter and Northrop Grumman Successfully Test Fire-X Unmanned Vertical System
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