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Northrop-Grumman Firebird
Scaled Composites Firebird Model 355
 
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The Firebird concept actually dates the back to the latter half of the 2000s, with Scaled Composites, Northrop Grumman’s storied subsidiary, eventually building a technology demonstrator. That highly experimental aircraft was a forerunner to the current Northrop Grumman designed Firebird, which is a clean-sheet, production-ready aircraft. Scaled Composites’ Firebird demonstrator first flew in 2010 and proved that an optionally manned, highly flexible surveillance aircraft could not only work, but it could compete for missions with both unmanned and manned platforms at the same time.
 
Firebird in manned configuration. It can be flown by one or two pilots and uses open architecture Garmin 3000 avionics. 
 
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Firebird is that it can self-deploy anywhere in the world with a pilot at its controls and even work out of small, rough airfields. Once forward deployed, it can then be converted into unmanned configuration and fly missions lasting over 30 hours. It single six-cylinder Lycoming TEO-540 engine runs on avgas. 
 
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Firebird in unmanned mode. 
 
Being able to tailor payloads to the operating environment and mission, some operations and operating areas benefit from or even necessitate a human in the cockpit, while others largely benefit from long-duration missions run from a ground station. Being able to provide both in one airframe is revolutionary, at least in terms of a purpose-built aircraft being sold and sustained by an American aerospace-defense prime contractor. 
 
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The Firebird can be easily broken down and flown on a transport. Its modular carbon fiber design made this nearly a default capability. 
 
Firebird was into the back half of its flight test program circa 2019. 
 
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