Acentury ago, a radical new phase of the Navy began with the introduction of sea-based air- craft. Today, the sea service is poised to take
another dramatic leap into the future with the integration of unmanned aircraft — and officials are doing their
best to make it seem like not much of a change at all.
The MQ-8B Fire Scout has been a trailblazer in
recent years, completing numerous deployments
aboard frigates as it works its way toward becoming a
permanent fixture on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
The Navy has enjoyed the capability so much that it is
developing a larger variant of the MQ-8B, the MQ-8C,
that will take the avionics of the Fire Scout and put
them in a Bell 407 airframe to increase range and
endurance [see related story on page 28].
And then there is the Unmanned Combat Air
System, which just this year began demonstrating that
an unmanned fixed-wing aircraft can launch from and
land on an aircraft carrier without having anyone in
But despite the introduction of radically new technology aboard ship, the Navy has found that it has not
resulted in a major upheaval for ship crews, said Capt.
Patrick Smith, Fire Scout program manager.
“Fire Scout system crews receive
system-specific training similar to
what a manned helicopter crew
would receive prior to deploy-
ment,” Smith said. “The training
curriculum builds upon the air-
crews’ and maintainers’ existing
naval aviation experience with
other Navy aircraft.”
The Navy provides Fire Scout
training to maintainers that lasts
about five weeks, which includes
both classroom and hands-on cur-
riculum. The air vehicle operators
and mission payload operators get
training in the classroom, on a sim-
ulator and during flights. After that training is com-
plete, both maintainers and operators will continue to
use the simulators to maintain proficiency — just like
with a manned platform, Smith said.
“The Fire Scout aviation detachment goes through
the same build-up, qualification process and certification leading to deployment that a manned helicopter
detachment performs,” he said.
Operators must follow all regulations and instructions for flights, including preflight briefings on the
area of operations, weather and restrictions, and the
MQ- 8’s crew coordinates with the host ship’s crew. The
operator also can talk with air traffic control.
All a Fire Scout needs is a ship that has space for aircraft, a hangar to store the aircraft and firefighting equipment. Integrating the aircraft with a host ship includes
installing the control station, the Unmanned Common
Recovery System (UCARS) and various data links.
“Full check-out of these systems is done prior to all
deployments,” Smith said. “No ship software changes
are required for Fire Scout integration. The system can
operate independently from the host ship, but does
interface with ship’s navigation and radio suites as part
of the current configuration.”
As the Navy experiments with unmanned aircraft,
leadership strives for a seamless shipboard transition
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
Taking It In Stride
Despite the introduction of radically new unmanned aerial technology aboard ship, the Navy has found that it has not resulted
in a major upheaval for ship crews.
n Operators of the MQ-8B Fire Scout system receive training similar
to what a manned helicopter crew would receive prior to deployment.
n There would be some “slight differences” in operational procedures
when operating an unmanned aircraft on an aircraft carrier’s deck.
n Both the Fire Scout and Unmanned Combat Air System will need
little special attention beyond what a manned aircraft would need.