MQ-8C Fire Scout Is the US Navy’s Advanced ‘Eye in the Sky’ Reconnaissance Drone

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout is the next-generation autonomous helicopter that can detect enemy ships and submarines.
Charles DeParlier

These latest unmanned helicopters are poised to provide the US Navy with unprecedented capabilities.

The MQ-8C Fire Scouts are drones that will bring greater strategic control over the seas. They can be armed if needed to provide aerial fire support, and their range of 170 miles (280 km) makes them perfect for protecting the seas from potential enemies.

Is this new technology really needed? What’s the advantage of deploying the MQ-8C for the Navy?


The innovative MQ-8C Fire Scout

MQ-8C Fire Scout on USS Jackson Flight Deck
MQ-8C Fire Scout on USS Jackson Flight Deck by Andrew Langholf. Public Domain.

The MQ-8C is part of the Fire Scout family that delivers improved intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities to the Navy. This is a remotely controlled helicopter modeled on the highly reliable Bell 407

The new Fire Scout is built by Northrop Grumman to replace the MQ-8B, the prior Fire Scout model.

However, the MQ-8B and MQ-8C will work together along with unmanned vessels to increasingly transfer routine Navy operations to drones.


The primary aim of the MQ-8C is to perform reconnaissance and surveillance flights. But, it could carry arms. Initially, it was planned to provide the MQ-8C with Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System comprising 70mm Hydra rockets in case it needs to face combat, but the idea has been discarded so far.

The MQ-8B version has already been deployed in combat areas in Afghanistan and has played a vital reconnaissance role with over 5,084 accumulated service hours.

The transition from the MQ-8B to the MQ-8C

HSC-23 Sailor Conducts Ground Turns
HSC-23 Sailor Conducts Ground Turns by Charles DeParlier. Public Domain

Two variants of the Fire Scout are deployed. The smaller MQ-8B Fire Scout and the state-of-the-art MQ-8C.


Northrop Grumman received a $262.3 million contract from the Navy to develop the MQ-8C, and they made several improvements to the MQ-8B to create the MQ-8C.

So far, Northrop Grumman has built 36 of these drones to accompany the 30 MQ-8Bs, and subsequently replace them. 

The MQ-8C Fire Scout has delivered enhanced sensors, greater speed, endurance, and payload capability to maritime operations.

It also has other notable advantages such as higher capacity, almost double the maximum load, higher speed, and 15 hours of operation.


MQ-8C and MQ-8B Comparison

MQ-8C Fire Scout

MQ-8C Fire Scout orthographical image
MQ-8C Fire Scout orthographical image by FOX 52. Licensed under CC by 4.0

  • Role: UAV helicopter
  • Manufacturer: Northrop Grumman / Bell Helicopter
  • First flight: 2013
  • Introduction: June 2019
  • User: US Navy
  • Number built: 36
  • Developed from: Bell 407
  • Capacity: 2,950 pounds (1,338 kilograms)
  • Length: 34 feet 8 inches (10.6 meters)
  • Height: 10 feet 11 inches  (3.3 meters)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 6,000 pounds (2,721 kilograms)
  • Main rotor diameter: 36 feet 7 inches (11.2 meters)
  • Maximum speed: 160 mph / 260 km/h
  • Endurance: 15 hours maximum
  • Service ceiling: 20,000 feet (6,100 meters)

MQ – 8B

MQ-8B Fire Scout Participates in Flight Operations
MQ-8B Fire Scout Participates in Flight Operations by Aaron Lau. Public Domain.

  • Role: UAV helicopter
  • Manufacturer: Northrop Grumman
  • First flight: 2000
  • Introduction: 2009 (MQ-8B)
  • Status: Currently in service
  • User: US Navy
  • Produced: 2000-present
  • Capacity: 600 pounds (272 kilograms)
  • Length: 23 feet 11.4 inches (7.3 meters)
  • Wingspan: 27 feet 6 inches (8.4 meters)
  • Height: 9 feet 8.5 inches (2.9 meters)
  • Empty weight: 2,073 pounds (940.3 kilograms)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 3,150 lb (1,430 kilograms)
  • Maximum speed: 132 mph / 213 km/h
  • Cruise speed: 130 mph / 200 km/h
  • Combat range: 126.6 miles / 203.7 kilometers
  • Endurance: 8 hours (5 hours fully loaded)
  • Service ceiling: 20,000 feet (6,100 meters)

Now the Navy will search for enemies and send real-time videos back to ships without risking pilots’ lives

The MQ-8C provides tremendous operational advantages to the Navy. It reduces the workload of its pilot and allows Navy leaders to achieve a greater range of action without compromising any sailor’s life.

And it’s probably just another step into the future with more unmanned vehicles taking over routine operations in the Navy.

Featured image credit: MQ-8C Prepares For Take Off by Charles DeParlier. Public Domain.


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