B-roll of the Northrop Grumman Firebird aircraft landing at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The Northrop Grumman Firebird is an intelligence gathering aircraft designed by Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites design shop which can be flown remotely or by a pilot. At Scaled, it is known as the Model 355. It was unveiled on May 9, 2011. It was first flown in February 2010 and is considered to be an optionally piloted vehicle (OPV). An optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) is a hybrid between a conventional piloted aircraft and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
One of the last aircraft designs overseen by Burt Rutan, who retired in April 2011, the Firebird is a medium-altitude long-endurance aircraft designed to fly up to 40 hours at a top speed of 230 mph (370 km/h) at an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,100 m). The twin-boom aircraft has a pusher configuration and a long slender (high aspect ratio) wing with a very slight forward sweep angle. It has a wingspan of 65 feet (20 m), a length of 34 feet (10 m), a height of 9.7 feet (3.0 m) and a payload capacity of 1,240 pounds (560 kg). It is powered by a Lycoming TEO-540 flat-six piston engine and has a maximum takeoff weight of 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg).
The Northrop Grumman Firebird intelligence gathering aircraft has hardpoints to carry weapons, though it is currently unarmed. The Firebird is designed so that the aircraft is able to carry up to four modules of spy equipment simultaneously, on a separate system from that needed to control the plane, so that equipment can be easily swapped in and out. According to Rick Crooks, a Northrop executive involved in the project, this design means that “It takes days or weeks to get a new payload of equipment integrated, instead of years.” The aircraft has the ability to simultaneously view infrared imagery, gather real time high-definition video, use radar, and perform local signals intelligence.
Firebird is equipped with wide band Line-of-Sight (LoS) and/or Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLoS) data links, onboard storage and accessible processing for rapid data exploitation to ensure timely completion of missions for industry and government customers. The system’s unique design allows sensors to be changed rapidly as plug-and-play devices, reducing first time payload integration time from months to days and enabling rapid field changes in less than an hour to increase operational availability and tailored mission suitability. Firebird delivers 30-plus hours of endurance and up to 25,000 feet, providing customers near real-time actionable intelligence.