Inside Firebird


The whole concept of an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) poses interesting questions about how to design the cockpit displays. For a single-seat OPV, when the pilot is simply flying the UAV from one place to another, then a baseline general aviation type configuration is probably adequate. However for the more ambitious two-seat OPV which puts a sensor/weapons systems operator in the right seat, then it is a whole different story.

Northrop Grumman photos

For this reason, Firebird’s enlarged cockpit is dominated by the sophisticated Garmin G3000 electronic flight information system. Incorporating three large 14.1 inch multifunction displays (MFD) and two 5.7 inch touch-screen GTC 570 vehicle management systems, the system was developed as the first touch-screen, integrated EFIS for light turbines and is baseline on the HondaJet business aircraft. Northrop Grumman selected the Garmin system because of its versatility and the ease with which it can adapted to either the piloted or UAV mode. The pedestal mounted GTC 570 controllers, for example, have been modified with a ‘third party’ option which enables the display and GTC to be responsive to inputs/outputs from a third party computer.

For the pilots, the small touch-screen is used for navigation and communication radio management and page navigation on the MFD, as well as control of the audio/intercom system, transponder codes and idents, and so on. In MFD mode, the display can be split vertically to enable two separate pages to be viewed side-by-side along with an EIS strip for engine and fuel data. In addition to standard flight planning and weather type functionality, Northrop Grumman will flight test more specific display options related to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payload sensors. These will include as many as three high definition EO/IR sensors, synthetic aperture radar, ground and digital moving target indicator (GMT/DMTI) radar and full-motion video (FMV). Others include electronic support, signals intelligence, communications relay and even precision weapons.

Firebird’s six-cylinder, turbocharged Lycoming TEO-540E drives a low-noise, five-bladed prop.

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