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An intelligence-gathering aircraft which can be flown remotely or by a pilot has completed capability demo flights. Northrop Grumman’s optionally-piloted aircraft, the Firebird, completed a series of mission-focused engagements, including integration and testing of TK-9 Earthwatch sensor.

The ISR aircraft’s unique design allows sensors to be changed rapidly as plug-and-play devices, reducing first time payload integration time from months to days and enabling tailored mission suitability. 

The TK-9 Earthwatch sensor by Overwatch Imaging has a flexible onboard AI-enabled automatic image processing engine that allows the system to adapt to new roles in new environments very quickly, from natural disaster emergency management to border security patrol and large-scale infrastructure inspection.

The sensor was integrated in one day as part of ongoing capability flights validating the range of missions the Firebird system can perform for government and commercial customers.

Over a four day period, Firebird demonstrated several data collection missions, including wide-area surveillance, pattern of life monitoring, route clearance, search and rescue, high-value subject tracking, hostage recovery, and fire hotspot detection. The Firebird team carried out four 10+ hour manned flights.

According to, Firebird is equipped with wide band Line-of-Sight (LoS) and/or Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLoS) data links, onboard storage and accessible processing for rapid data exploitation to ensure timely completion of missions. 

The system delivers 30-plus hours of endurance and flies up to 25,000 feet, providing customers near real-time actionable intelligence.