The new MQ-8C Fire Scout looks so much like a normal helicopter that it took me two days of wandering the 2013 Sea-Air-Space convention floor to even notice it. In fact, the latest evolution of Northrup Grumman's naval drone looks so much like the past of aeronautics that it's easy to miss how it's the future.
The mock-up on display had sensors ideal for surveillance, which is what the Fire Scout's smaller predecessor currently does for the U.S. Navy. But the new, larger Fire Scout will also be able to do everything a helicopter can already do, including carrying medical personnel for emergency airlifts, and it will do some things they can't, like fly longer distances by carrying extra fuel instead of people. The Fire Scout is yet another look at the future of aviation, in which vehicles are driven not by human occupants but instead by intelligent machines or remote pilots.
The new Fire Scout contains about 95 percent of the same guidance controls and software as its half-size sibling. The biggest innovation of the MQ-8C? Taking all that already-existing technology and putting it in a much larger body.