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Precise and almost real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities can be achieved through unmanned aerial systems. One of them is the Firebird, which represents a new approach to delivering medium altitude ISR.
Available in manned, autonomous and optionally piloted configurations, Firebird is designed to provide ISR payload and cockpit flexibility through truly open architecture and plug-and-play payload integration.
The major feature of the Firebird drone is its ability to be reconfigured for multiple purposes. Northrop Grumman said recent flight activity has put the Firebird’s endurance capabilities to the test. More flights are set to happen early next year, as the company looks to further market the drone to its global security customers.
The Firebird can operate with a pilot or fly autonomously. Pilots also can be in the cockpit with their hands off the controls, while the drone flies itself.
“We actually landed in the manned configuration, taxied up to the hangar here, and we took that manned flight and used that (data) to describe to the UAV, how to do the exact same thing,” said Jon Haun, director of the Firebird production team during a presentation to the media.
The Firebird can fly for more than 30 hours. It can carry a payload of 1,700 pounds, 500 pounds on each wing with the remainder in the fuselage. It takes a team of four people two hours to switch from manned to unmanned flight, and less time to switch payloads and mission-specific equipment. This adaptability is important to the security users, as they may need to quickly carry out different operations at different locations.
But the Firebird has civil and commercial uses as well, including precision agriculture operations and infrastructure monitoring, such as utility lines. In a recent flight, the company team conducted a law enforcement simulation, where the drone tracked two targets, a moving vehicle and a boat on the Red River.
Those flight tests, in which the Firebird flew 70 hours in seven days, in the day and at night and in different weather conditions, are now completed. More flights are scheduled to happen in the first quarter of 2021.