The Coast Guard has long talked about the need for a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) land based unmanned aircraft. I have assumed the most likely contender was the MQ-9B, but it looks like there may be another contender, an Optionally Manned aircraft developed by Burt Rutan‘s Scaled Composites. This is the Northrop Grumman Firebird.
Airforce-Technology.com reports that during a recent almost 9,000 mile series of demonstration flights that,
“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.”
I don’t think this maritime demonstration would have been for the Navy, since they are already committed to the jet powered MQ-4C Triton.
Apparently the Firebird is already in service with an unspecified Federal Agency. I would guess this is probably a DHS agency.
I was a bit surprised to see that the aircraft is powered by a typical general aviation aircraft engine, the Lycoming TO-540. That means it uses AvGas rather than the fuel typically used by Coast Guard turbine powered aircraft, but it also means that the fuel is available at virtually every airport and its maintenance is familiar to thousands of aircraft mechanics all over the world.