Northrop Grumman Unveils ‘Pilot-Optional’ ISR Aircraft

Technology enables users to simultaneously obtain real-time high-definition video, view infrared imagery, use radar and listen in on communications signals.
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Northrop Grumman Corp. has unveiled an intelligence-gathering aircraft system—the Firebird—that enables military users to simultaneously obtain real-time high-definition video, view infrared imagery, use radar and listen in on communications signals.

Because of its large internal payload bay, the Firebird can carry multiple intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and communications payloads making simultaneous operation possible through a universal interface, Northrop Grumman says in a written statement. In addition, from its inception Firebird was designed to be flown as a manned or unmanned aircraft and can be modified for either option, the firm says.

“The internal payload bay also does away with the need to carry external pods to house sensor payloads that can cause drag and affect how long the aircraft can stay in the air,” said Rick Crooks, Northrop Grumman’s Firebird program manager.

In addition, Firebird’s universal interface is similar to plugging a memory stick into a personal computer that is automatically recognized without needing to load additional software, the Northrop Grumman says. “Not only have we increased the number of ISR sensors working simultaneously in an aircraft of this size, but we can also incorporate various sensors that complement each other, greatly enhancing Firebird’s information-gathering value for warfighters,” Crooks said. “Firebird is an adaptable system that makes it highly affordable because of the number of different missions it can accomplish during a single flight. It’s a real game changer,” he said.

“Military users will also find it much easier to exploit intelligence data from Firebird because the information is put into a single tool that allows them to easily make decisions,” Crooks added.

Firebird is set for an operational demonstration in a pilot-optional configuration from May 23 through June 3, 2011, during Empire Challenge 2011, a military exercise run by U.S. Joint Forces Command, the company said.

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