Engineers from Northrop Grumman and Bell Helicopter powered up the Fire-X unmanned aerial system (UAS) for the first time on September 17 at Bell’s XworX facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The companies anticipate initial flight of Fire-X, which is based on the Bell 407, in late 2010. The power-on comes after four months of design modifications at XworX to convert the airframe to unmanned mode, including removing seats and adding avionics and wire harnesses. George Spongberg, Fire-X program manager for Northrop Grumman, says that the challenge “is to duplicate, using hardware and software, the behavior of the air vehicle when it is flown by a human. For example, we’re installing and testing actuators that will move the air vehicle’s flight control surfaces in response to commands from a ground control station the same way they would move in response to commands from a pilot in the cockpit.” Software for the guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) systems is also being evaluated.
Northrop Grumman and Bell planned to test Fire-X in a manned configuration during October in order to evaluate the GN&C functions, then transform it back into the unmanned version. Ground testing and engine runs are scheduled to follow, before the helicopter is transferred to the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona for final checks and first flight. (From November 2010 Rotorcraft Report)