Patuxent River MD (SPX) Jun 10, 2010
Fleet Readiness Center East began its new role as one of the Navy's depot repair points for the MQ-8B Vertical Take-off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle when it inducted its first two Fire Scouts.
The Fire Scout is an unmanned helicopter that is equipped with a number of information gathering systems designed to provide operational commanders with real-time intelligence, reconnaissance, and targeting awareness.
The 9.4-foot tall, 3,150-pound aircraft has a 20,000-foot ceiling, a top speed of 125 plus knots (about 143 miles per hour), and can fly 110 nautical miles, then hover on station for up to five hours relaying and recording events from distances far enough to remain largely unseen and undetected.
In a recent deployment aboard USS McInerney, one of the MQ-8B's now at FRC East, tracked, filmed, then played an integral role in a drug interdiction mission that nabbed drug smugglers off the coast of Latin America. The six-month cruise was the first operational assignment for the weapons platform.
FRC East is performing maintenance in conjunction with a corrosion assessment requested by PMA-266, according to MQ-8B Fire Scout Fleet Support Team Lead Brian Stephens.
"The material condition of the aircraft is being evaluated by FRC East E and Es (estimators and evaluators) and FST (fleet support team) engineers along with a broader national Fire Scout Team," he said.
"The results of this inspection will enable FRC East artisans to improve the condition of the aircraft before it is returned to service later this year. As a result of the configuration changes developed and incorporated at FRC East, the aircraft will be even more robust on future deployments then they were when received from the manufacturer."
The depot is also reworking 10 main rotor heads.
"We're applying an improved finish that will significantly reduce the corrosion that had to be treated during the first deployment," Stephens explained.
In the future, FRC East will repair approximately 60 of the Fire Scout's components. Artisans are receiving hands-on training by working with the FST and Northrup Grumman engineers.
The Navy will field 121 Fire Scouts, once the platform is fully deployed. The inventory currently stands at seven - one trainer, two at Northrup Grumman for developmental testing, and four the Navy flies during operational evaluations.
The two MQ-8B's at FRC East should be back in the Fleet about mid-June.
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