Northrop Grumman Unveils Newest Intelligence Gathering Aircraft System
Firebird, which can be flown as a manned or unmanned aircraft, enables users to operate multiple sensor payloads simultaneously.
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed May 09, 2011


Military users will be able to get real-time high-definition video, view infrared imagery, use radar, and even listen in on communications signals—all at the same time—using a new intelligence-gathering aircraft system called Firebird unveiled today by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC).

Firebird offers a large internal payload bay and can operate multiple intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communications payloads simultaneously through a universal interface. The system is designed to be flown as a manned or unmanned aircraft.

As lead for the Firebird program, Northrop Grumman developed the unmanned systems architecture, control, and mission systems. The company chose Scaled Composites to design, build, and test the aircraft, with first flight occurring just 12 months after the initial concept discussions.

“Firebird addresses future budgetary constraints by combining the best of our piloted and unmanned ISR systems into a single solution ready for a variety of ISR missions,” says Paul Meyer, vice president and general manager of advanced programs and technology for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

Firebird’s universal interface is similar to plugging a memory stick into a personal computer that is automatically recognized without needing to load additional software.

“Not only have we increased the number of ISR sensors working simultaneously in an aircraft of this size, but we can also incorporate various sensors that complement each other, greatly enhancing Firebird’s information-gathering value for warfighters,” says Rick Crooks, Northrop Grumman’s Firebird program manager. Crooks further notes that the aircraft is adaptable and affordable in the sense that it can accomplish several different missions in one flight. “It’s a real game changer,” he says.

Firebird is set for an operational demonstration in an optionally piloted configuration from May 23 to June 3, 2011, during Empire Challenge 2011, a military exercise run by U.S. Joint Forces Command.

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