April 27, 2011: The U.S. Navy has sent three of its MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) to Afghanistan, to provide aerial reconnaissance. This is an interesting development, as the American military has not had a lot of success with helicopter UAVs. Two years ago, the U.S. Army cancelled its RQ-8B Fire Scout UAV project. It just didn't work out.
But the navy kept theirs. The U.S. Navy remains interested in Fire Scout, and they have developed, and put into use, their own MQ-8B version. The RQ-8B died because the army already had plenty of UAVs that got the job done. The navy kept Fire Scout because helicopters are more practical on most navy ships (for landings and takeoffs.) Navy Fire Scouts has been successfully used on frigates (in both the Atlantic and Pacific). There is a huge demand for UAVs in Afghanistan, so the navy sent what it could.
The 1.5 ton Fire Scout is based upon the Schweitzer 333 unmanned helicopter, which in turn is derived from the Schweitzer 330 commercial lightweight manned helicopter. Fire Scout has a payload of 272 kg (600 pounds), a cruising speed of 200 kilometers, max altitude of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) and endurance of eight hours. The U.S. Navy currently has eight MQ-8Bs and plans to acquire another 160 of them. The three in Afghanistan are being operated by contractors.