With temperatures hovering around zero, there were few witnesses around Mojave early on Sunday morning to see a new two-seat production derivative of Northrop Grumman’s secretly-developed Firebird make its first flight.
The optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) is a 30% bigger version of the medium-altitude unmanned air vehicle demonstrator first revealed by Northrop in 2011. The second seat has been added at the request of a mystery buyer, an order from whom has kicked off an initial low-rate production run of two per year for the next five years.
The original single-seater version was designed to enable the Firebird to transit through commercial airspace as a conventional aircraft. According to Northrop, the addition of the second seat now gives users the option of a co-pilot and/or sensor systems operator position, while retaining the original goal of providing a low-cost platform for persistent surveillance.
If not being operated in piloted mode, the Firebird is designed to be commanded by ground station to operate in either line-of-sight (LOS) unmanned mode, or beyond LOS mode. For beyond LOS, the canopy comes off and the pilot’s avionics are removed to be replaced by an L3 satcom antenna. For more details of the two-seat Firebird check out our fuller report: Northrop Grumman Reveals Bigger Firebird.