Northrop Grumman Corporation has conducted the first engineering flight of an
enhanced, multi-mission variant of the current RQ-5A air vehicle called the
MQ-5B. The 66-minute check-out flight of the upgraded air vehicle, which
features extended range, endurance and weapon capabilities, was conducted July 8
at Libby Air Field, Ft Huachuca, Arizona.
Compared to the fielded RQ-5A air vehicles, which have flown more than 14,000
hours on combat missions in the Balkans and Iraq, the MQ-5B Hunter offers a
longer wing span (34-ft versus 29-ft), longer maximum endurance (approximately
15 hours vs the current 12 hours), and higher operating altitude (approximately
18,000 feet vs 15,000 feet). The new air vehicle also features modern,
dual-redundant avionics; the LN-251 inertial navigation system/global
positioning system, which improves the accuracy of target location; and a
goal of the first MQ-5B flight was to evaluate the UAV's controllability and
handling characteristics. After a dozen high-speed taxi runs, the air vehicle
was commanded to lift off and it did so successfully. At a safe altitude, the
company's flight-operations team conducted a series of controllability tests at
various airspeeds before safely landing the UAV. The flight validated
predictions about the MQ-5B's performance developed from an earlier series of
test flights conducted using a RQ-5A Hunter air vehicle retrofitted with some,
but not all, of the MQ-5B's new components.
The company plans to use a subsequent set of test flights to test the MQ-5B's
improved capabilities including its avionics redundancy, camera-guided flight,
mission-based return home and its ability to accurately acquire targets.
Northrop Grumman operated the MQ-5B under the control of a prototype 'One
System' ground control station. The One System shelter is a standard Army ground
control station that can be configured to fly a variety of Army UAVs, including
the Shadow and Hunter. Northrop Grumman has previously demonstrated the ability
of its prototype One System ground control station to operate the RQ-5A Hunter
and an extended-range version known as E-Hunter. The company is currently
integrating the Fire Scout into a pre-production version of the One System
ground control station.
The first fielding of the MQ-5B Hunter using the Army's One System ground
control station with an automated take-off and landing capability is planned for
The MQ-5B flight is part of an on-going, collaborative effort by Northrop
Grumman and the Army to address obsolescence, enhance the operational
performance and reduce the maintenance costs of the Hunter fleet. As the Army's
primary UAV integrator, the company currently provides all depot-level
maintenance, support and engineering services for the Hunter system, which the
company developed in partnership with Israel Aircraft Industries in the early
In January 2001, Northrop Grumman began development of the heavy-fuel engine
used in the MQ-5B. Designed to run on diesel fuel, which is more available than
the MOGAS (motor gasoline) or AVGAS (aviation gasoline) fuel currently used by
Hunter air vehicles, it allows the Hunter UAV to climb faster, operate at higher
operational altitudes and reduce fuel consumption. To date, Northrop Grumman has
conducted more than 83 engineering and production flight tests of this new
engine covering more than 265 hours.
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