The Firebird was flown in a manned configuration equipped with a four-sensor package consisting of two high-definition electro-optic/infrared cameras, an Overwatch Imaging TK-9 multispectral sensor for small target detection, and an automatic identification system receiver.
April 2021: Northrop Grumman recently completed a three-week, nearly 9,000-mile roadshow of its Firebird optionally-manned autonomous long-endurance aircraft across the U.S. that wrapped up with a maritime domain awareness demonstration of the system and a sensor package for littoral operations in South Florida, the company said this week.
The demonstrations in Key West, Fla. for U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) followed discussions with customers and potential customers about “the growing need for littoral maritime ISR capability,” specifically for detect and monitoring operations, John Haun, chief strategist for Autonomous Systems at Northrop Grumman’s Aeronautics sector, told (Aviation Today sister publication) Defense Daily during a virtual interview on Thursday.
Firebird can be operated in manned and unmanned configurations relatively inexpensively for a wide-range of missions such as search and rescue, firefighting, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, agricultural applications, maritime monitoring and more.
For the USSOUTHCOM demonstration, which was geared for the Joint Interagency Task Force-South that is focused on detecting and monitoring illicit trafficking in the air and maritime domains, Firebird was flown in a manned configuration equipped with a four-sensor package consisting of two high-definition electro-optic/infrared cameras, an Overwatch Imaging TK-9 multispectral sensor for small target detection, and an automatic identification system receiver.
Haun said that prior to the six-stop roadshow, his team did some artificial intelligence-based anomaly detection testing of the TK-9 sensor off the California coast and it queued the operators to a specific location in the water and they took a closer look with a sensor and saw it was a sun fish about two-feet below the water surface. He said the fish was about three-feet wide, “and it kind of showed us that there are applications for semi-submersible detection and other things like that that would be mission relevant in the maritime environment. And then we were also detecting everything like surfers and boats.”