U.S. Navy grounds Fire Scout unmanned helicopter

The composites-intensive MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has been grounded following two unrelated crashes while in the field.

The Navy Times reported on April 10 that the U.S. Navy has grounded its fleet of MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopters after two unrelated crashes in seven days. It means that the frigate Simpson, which deployed to West Africa in January in a counter piracy detail with a pair of composites-intensive Fire Scouts onboard, is left without any operational aircraft.

According to the report, Fire Scout flights are “temporarily suspended” for all 14 aircraft in the Navy’s inventory while the two incidents are investigated and improvements are made, Naval Air Systems Command officials said Tuesday.

In the most recent incident on April 6, says the report, a Fire Scout operating in northern Afghanistan crashed during a surveillance mission with Regional Command-North. The UAV was not recovered and the cause of the crash is under investigation. The Navy has three of the aircraft in Afghanistan.

A week earlier, a Fire Scout was ditched at sea at the end of a sortie off the coast of Western Africa. On March 30, the UAV left the Simpson for an Africa Partnership Station surveillance mission. When it returned to the ship, it was not able to “lock on” with its UAS Common Automated Recovery System, a program that automatically lands the Fire Scout on the ship’s deck. A spokesman for Northrop Grumman, the contractor that developed the Fire Scout, said there’s no manual way to land the aircraft. The Simpson’s crew was able to recover the Fire Scout by hoisting it from a lift point atop the rotor.

The mishaps did not cause any injuries or damage other aircraft. Since 2006, Fire Scouts have flown more than 5,000 flight hours, with more than 3,000 accrued during deployments.

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