Northrop Grumman’s Firebird multi-sensor aircraft has demonstrated the flexibility of the ‘optionally manned autonomous system’ as it flew to several locations across the US in March.

This ability of the aircraft to be ‘flown manned through national airspace’ showcases the operational flexibility of Firebird for self-deployment and rapid relocation ability.

Northrop flew Firebird almost 9,000 miles with multi stops in the US states of Ohio, Maryland, Miami and Florida.

In July 2019, Northrop Grumman received orders to supply the optionally piloted intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft system Firebird.

The Firebird ISR aircraft is designed to provide medium-altitude long-endurance multi-mission flexibility.

Northrop Grumman autonomous systems vice-president and general manager Jane Bishop said: “Our flights showcased one of its key differentiators, the ability to position the system in a manned configuration, then convert to autonomous operations for persistent ISR in under two hours.

“At each stop, plane-side briefings provided customers the opportunity to see first-hand the operational versatility of the platform, its large sensor bay, and rapid configurability for changing mission needs.”

Northrop noted that Firebird’s customers can install new payloads in just a single day and swap payloads in 30 minutes, making the system suitable for multiple missions.

During the flight tests concluded in Florida, the Northrop team conducted a series of ‘manned maritime operational events’.

These events comprised a four-sensor package that included two high-definition electro-optical/infra-red EO/IR sensors, a maritime configured multi-spectral sensor for small target detection, as well as an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver.

Firebird is available in manned, autonomous and optionally piloted configurations. Capable of delivering critical ISR capability, the system features wideband line-of-sight (LoS) and/or beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) data links.

Other features include on-board storage and accessible processing.