Northrop Unveils Firebird MALE Aircraft

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neptune

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Unread post06 May 2011, 15:56

http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/ ... el=defense

Northrop Unveils Firebird MALE Aircraft

May 6, 2011

By Amy Butler abutler@aviationweek.com

Northrop Grumman is planning to publicly unveil its secret Firebird aircraft later this month at the Pentagon’s Empire Challenge, an exercise designed to demonstrate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies that can be fielded quickly.

Despite mature work in the unmanned rotorcraft, airship and high-altitude UAS markets, company officials have remained unsatisfied at the dominance of General Atomics in the medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS market with their Predator, Reaper and Gray Eagle designs.

“That was a target,” says Paul Meyer, director of the Advanced Technology and Concepts division, who spoke exclusively with Aviation Week about the new aircraft. “That is the one that is unopposed today [but] when we looked at it, we needed to do something different.”

Thus, Firebird is an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV); it was secretly built by Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites in 12 months. The aircraft, first flown in February 2010, was showcased last October in a private demonstration for Pentagon officials near Sacramento, Calif. Though unlikely to eclipse Predator or Reaper in order numbers, Northrop officials see an opportunity for a niche market with the OPV while the Pentagon and FAA continue to wrangle over rules for flying UAS in open airspace.

The twin-boomed, Bronco tail design – so named because it was used for the OV-10 “Bronco” -- was chosen to carry up to four payloads simultaneously, including sensors and communications equipment, and operate up to 40 hrs. in unmanned mode.

Firebird’s information architecture was crafted to offer users in various locations direct access to the payloads, offering service to multiple ground users at once, says Rick Crooks, director of special programs at Northrop’s advanced technology division. The aircraft is designed to fly at about 200 kts.

During Empire Challenge, which takes place May 23-June 3, Northrop plans to showcase the use of up to four payloads – including high-definition full-motion video, electro-optical/infrared sensors, electronic support/direction finding and a communications relay -- simultaneously on Firebird. The company plans to land, reconfigure the sensor payload and launch a new sortie within an hour.

Empire Challenge takes place in Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Though hosted by the now soon-to-be defunct U.S. Joint Forces Command, the Army is sponsoring the Firebird entry for the trials.
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Unread post07 May 2011, 21:12

Definitely has some Burt Rutan influences there.
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Unread post10 May 2011, 19:55

24-40 hour endurance? And it's armed? And it has a pilot option? Infantry guys aren't too particular about where their CAS comes from, but they tend to prefer assets can stick around for awhile. Drones are handy, but they don't have the situational awareness to react to the changing situations on the ground fast enough. Piloted aircraft are easier to communicate with, but the timescales of air operations and ground operations are often incompatible due to the fact that ground missions generally take much longer (it's frustrating when your "fast flyer" has to leave because his time and/or fuel are up). This new aircraft might be a perfect solution to the problem.
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Unread post10 May 2011, 20:13

1st503rdsgt wrote:24-40 hour endurance? ... This new aircraft might be a perfect solution to the problem.


Stay high for SAMs. But it might have persistence, as you said.
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Unread post10 May 2011, 21:00

neptune wrote:
1st503rdsgt wrote:24-40 hour endurance? ... This new aircraft might be a perfect solution to the problem.


Stay high for SAMs. But it might have persistence, as you said.


SAMs aren't a huge issue in Afghanistan these days (especially at night), and besides, close air support doesn't have to be so close anymore. Persistence, as you say, is more important than raw performance or a super-heavy payload when fighting insurgents. Speaking of which, what is the projected weapons load? If it can carry a couple of 500lb bombs or around 4 Hellfires/SDMs, that would probably be adequate for most missions.
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Unread post11 May 2011, 04:21

I suspect the cockpit is for ferrying the aircraft through airspaces where countries are not UAV friendly. Mission will most likely be unmanned to enhance their endurance.
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Unread post15 Jun 2011, 22:15

http://www.irconnect.com/noc/press/page ... l?d=224276

Northrop Grumman's Firebird Successfully Uses Three Eyes and Fourth Sensor Payload
Intelligence-Gathering Sensors Can be Installed, Used in Matter of Minutes

SAN DIEGO, June 14, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --

The Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) Firebird intelligence-gathering air system successfully used three different high-definition video sensors and an electronics support payload all at the same time – a future capability sought by the U.S. military that's available today.

The flight marks the first time three electro-optical, infrared sensors have been used simultaneously with a fourth payload on an aircraft. This capability was proven on May 20 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., with additional missions through June 3 as part of the U.S. Joint Forces Command's Empire Challenge 2011 exercise.

"Firebird's universal interface is what makes this all possible," said Rick Crooks, director of special projects and Firebird program manager for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "It's very similar to plugging a memory stick into a computer – it's automatically recognized without needing to load new software. With this 'plug-and-play' technology we can place many different sensors on Firebird and operate them in a matter of minutes."

Crooks explained that this capability is important to warfighters because it significantly reduces the time needed to replace sensors so they can ready Firebird quickly for different missions. The flight team can install the three high-definition full-motion video (HD FMV) sensors along with a communications payload in less than an hour.

During Empire Challenge, the Firebird team also showed how real-time HD video could be sent to different locations including a ground control station, remote terminals, a tablet computer and a cellular phone. Control of the sensors was done independently through the ground station and remote terminals.

"Not only can soldiers on the ground and aircraft crews see the video and data, but they also control the sensors independently," said Crooks. "This two-way control really puts the power of Firebird's systems in their hands. By being able to go through a remote terminal or a cellular phone, we've made it possible for soldiers on the front-line to more effectively use these systems to gain the edge they need."

The three HD FMV sensors were supplied by FLIR Systems, with the fourth payload being the Northrop Grumman-produced Common Signals Intelligence System 1500 that provided an electronics support and direction finding capability.

The team was able to switch between eight different sensors during the exercise. To date, Firebird has used 15 different intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor payloads.

Northrop Grumman leads the Firebird program with teammate Scaled Composites – the aircraft innovation firm founded by famed engineer Burt Rutan who designed SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded spacecraft.
Firebird was intentionally designed to be flown as a manned or unmanned air system. It can be easily modified for both flight modes.

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