Helicopter Drone Makes First Flight from Navy Destroyer

MQ-8C_Destroyer_FlightA helicopter drone developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. has made its first flight from a U.S. Navy destroyer, the company announced.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout on Dec. 16 completed 22 autonomous takeoffs and landings aboard the guided-missile destroyer, USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, according to a Dec. 23 release from the Falls Church, Virginia-based defense contractor.

“This is the first sea-based flight of the MQ-8C and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer,” Capt. Jeff Dodge, who manages the program for Naval Air Systems Command, said in the release. The technology offers greater endurance, he added, allowing “ship commanders and pilots to have a longer on station presence.”

The unmanned aircraft is the largest of three versions developed since 2002. Based on the Bell 407 helicopter, it’s designed in part for cargo resupply missions. While undergoing initial testing aboard destroyers, the drones will eventually fly from the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships, at least according to the current plans.

During the recent test flights, the aircraft was autonomously controlled from the ship’s control ground station. Northrop was also the company behind the Navy’s X-47B drone, which made history last year when it landed aboard an aircraft carrier.

George Vardoulakis, Northrop’s vice president for medium range tactical systems, said the MQ-8C evaluations “are an essential part in clearing the operational envelope of the system and are proving the system’s ability to operate off any air-capable ship. We are on track to validate all of the critical performance parameters of this Navy asset and ready the system for deployment and operational use.”

The drone is slated to begin flying actual missions in 2016, according to the Navy. Previous versions of the aircraft have been used to support missions in such countries as Afghanistan and Libya. In fact, forces loyal to the late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 shot down an MQ-8B during a reconnaissance mission.

The service plans to buy almost 30 MQ-8Cs to support U.S. Africa and Special Operation Commands. The aircraft has an operational range of about 150 nautical miles and payload capacity of more than 700 pounds.

Here’s video of the MQ-8C flights from the Dunham:

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • DHAndrew

    Is the current generation of navy officers completely ignorant of the QH-50C DASH that we operated off FRAM I destroyers like the VOGIE in the early 1960s?

    see; https://www.facebook.com/DASH.Weapon.System

    DH (Andy) Andrew
    DASH-CIC controller, USS Vogelgesang (DD-862)

    • David Powell

      Thank you for your service, and right you are!

      Happy Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • Mike

      First autonomous one. Does not require a ground pilot or remote control.

      • Ern

        Captain Jeff Dodge stated, “and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer,” in referring to the MQ-8C.
        That is completely wrong, the Dash helicopter was the first, saw a number of flights in person, as I was serving in the US Navy from 1963 to 1970.

    • PJH

      Thanks for remembering us old farts. USS Henderson DD785. One of the funniest stories was when our DASH control officer lost contact with the bird during exercises. He came up on the net and said “My DASH to you. Out of control”. That was the last we saw of it as it went over the horizon.

    • Bill

      When I was on the USS LAFFEY DD724 in 1969 we had something that looked like a small helicopter that was controlled remotely.
      One day it wouldn’t come back and land we couldn’t maneuver under it and when it ran out of fuel it crashed in the ocean!
      Bill USN RET

      • Mike Simone

        Bill-did you know my Dad-Ralph Simone?

    • mikeinsa

      If you have enough jiga-watts, you can go back to the future.

    • Steve Winters

      I was going to comment on the DASH system too. More proof that the modern media’s accuracy is not to be trusted! My last ship, USS Orleck DD886, is now a museum ship in Louisiana and has a DASH on display

    • T Walker

      Yes, by the time I got aboard a FRAM ! Can in ’69 the DASH program was already scrubbed for the disaster it was. I sure hope in the last 40 or so year that the technology has improved over the DASH debacle. Drones at sea are an entirely different animal than the one flown over dry land what with many more variables. . I think they are going to find that out the hard way. Hopefully, this is not another taxpayer money monkey being deep six’ed.

    • Al E

      My thoughts exactly, sir! USS Orleck DD886 ’70-73

    • Jerry

      And the USS John A Boley Vietnam mid 60s, we had “White Elephants” (ECM) on board and flew the in the south AND the north. Later we had M60 machine guns with cameras on board, flew them in support of marine ops

    • L Healy

      This is true. I was stationed aboard the USS Gearing (DD-710) in 1966. The DASH Drone was used for torpedo deployment a distance away from the ship.

    • John Scannell

      I served on Hazelwood DD531 in 1957. She was later modified for DASH and was the first ship to land DASH unmanned in Dec 1960

      John OSC USN Ret

    • Mike Simone

      My father was on the USS Laffey (DD-724) from 1964 until about 68 or 69. He worked on the jet engines for the drones and taught engine repair at Dam Neck when he left sea duty. I spent many nights as a kid on that ship when he had duty. I thought everyone forgot about the DASH program.

    • Ray D Smith. BM-2

      I remember some time in 1966-1967 we also had a DASH hello on the USS AGERHOLM ( DD826) I guess they can’t think that far back.

    • David Norton

      Andy, I flew the DASH off the Vogelgesang in 1966-67. Small world. LCDR (ret) David Norton

  • Jim

    Yeah, not the first unmanned flight from a destroyer.
    Research the QH-50 DASH. 1960’s era.

  • VADM

    Who writes this drivel? The Drone-Anti Submarine Helicopter (DASH) was operating off Destroyers in the early 1960’s

  • Robert

    Install some missile rails on the skids and put it to work.

    • @Sohoist

      Next step - get rid of the tail rotor - make it less vulnerable and less expensive

    • Bernard

      And a cannon! It would be the first autonomous drone gunship. The Army and Marines might want something like that.

  • Bob

    DHAndrew, EXACTLY the first thought that came into my mind! Vogelsang, DESRON 36 Squadron 362!

  • heftyjo

    Heh, yeah I guess that captain should have been a bit more specific in saying this was the first fully autonomous unmanned helicopter to operate from a destroyer. It appears the QH-50 DASH needed a deck operator with a RC controller to manually fly the take-off and landing. The DASH also could only operate out to about 70 miles while in direct radio and radar contact with the destroyer. It only had enough memory to store the last altitude and heading command it was given. The Fire Scout can take-off and land autonomously and can fly a pre-programmed flight plan all on it’s own.

  • Alan a

    My father was training on the Vogelsang when WW2 ended. It was brand new out of Norfolk. This after 2 years in the Pacific on McKee DD575

  • Lance

    At least I can say the OH-58 will fly on now w/O a pilot but it still flies.

  • Walt Sanders

    Captain Dodge is quoted in this article as saying “…and the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer.” He did not say the first autonomous helicopter. I was on the USS Radford out of Pearl Harbor in 1963-64. It was also outfitted with the DASH system.

  • BT1Ed

    By the time I reported aboard Leary, 879, in 1970 DASH had been removed. Hanger made great place for crew’s movie.

  • Keith

    USD Richard B Anderson DD786 had a DASH as well. Our current Naval officer need to check their history better. Never did understand why they did not improve a and keep.

  • Eric

    Hey has anyone mentioned the QH-50 DASH yet?

  • kerryithm

    Previous versions of the aircraft have been used to support missions in such countries as Afghanistan and Libya.. Were NOT giving Afghanistan & libya USE of these with TECHS I hope? CIA setting shops up all over the place Nowadays.

  • Ron Cox Msgt (ret)

    During the recent test flights, the aircraft was autonomously controlled from the ship’s control ground station OXYMOrONIC phrase!!

  • ryan

    Oh NO it’s SKYNET!!!!!

  • William Llewellyn

    In 1960 I was on the DD Thomson offshore of San Diego as a helicopter mech (Navy sq. HU-1). We flew remote controlled torpedo carrying choppers off a flight deck that had been put in the place of where the 5″ 38 gun mount had been removed. So, what’s new ?

  • TTT

    Hope it has a better run than the DASH choppers did. I served on the USS Blue DD744 out of Ling Beach. We had a pair of those miserable Mosquitos called DASH. I was an FT. We had to track them so Ops would know where it was at. We even dropped a practice torpedo once at a live sub off CA. If I remember right it had an emergency flotation ring which had a perfect failure record. Not noe DASH was ever saved by its flotation ring.

  • Steve

    The is a misuse of the verbiage autonomous that means “driverless / it guides itself without human intervention” (this helo uses “the ship ground control station” and a human to maneuver it… Thus remote or radio guided controlled.

    During the recent test flights, the aircraft was autonomously controlled from the ship’s control ground station. Northrop was also the company behind the Navy’s X-47B drone, which made history last year when it landed aboard an aircraft carrier.g

  • Bob

    Correction to my earlier post; it was DESDIV 36 DESRON 362 Typo not noticed. BTW; I was on the DH FOX (DD779) out of NorVa and I think we set a altitude record as the DASH went up off the deck and kept going up and up and up !!! Never saw that bird again!

  • Fred Brennion

    I hope these helicopters will contain a device which if it goes down from a malfunction will release a buoy with a long cable and a floating GPS transmitter which transmits encrypted coordinates so it can be recovered and examined for the failure mode. Come to think of it, why don’t ALL Naval aircraft contain a device like this?

    Anybody got an answer?

  • buttneckid


    flight quarters…

    flew that damn D.A.S.H…
    sometimes with camera attached for gun fire support missions…

    in 1 9 6 6!!!…nineteen fookin’ sixty six…

    maybe the first autonomous…

    but damn sure not the first “chopper”!!!…

    no wunner the navy has so many problems…

    0’s don’t do any fact checking…

    USN ret 10-62/07-82

  • Jeff

    They need to put some remote controlled CIWS guns on that sucker for air support missions.

  • MassJim

    Some of the Dealy class DE’s flew the DASH. How soon before they re-discover the Weapon Alpha?

  • GSWife

    ‘Northrop was also the company behind the Navy’s X-47B drone, which made history last year when it landed aboard an aircraft carrier.’

    Northrop had nothing to do with the software for communication between the drone and the carrier. That was ALL Navy Lakehurst’s engineers, of which my husband is one. The reason it was successful was because of our in-house talent.

  • Tommy

    We had pilotless helicoptors on the USS Rich DD 820 in the late sisties and nucular torpedoes to hit the targets they found. The Rich could take out a Rusky sub easily with the drone and ASROC system. Nothing new here.

  • BartRevilo

    The DASH system had a rebirth in the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam with MINEDIV 112 and MINEDIV 113. These Navy units used DASH electronics to control 25 foot river mine sweeping drones mostly in the Mekong Delta. MINEDIV 113 was the last US river unit deployed in Vietnam ending in March 1970.


    In addition to all the above comments, the lead photo and video appear to be a modified version of the Army OH-58 and bears little resemblance to the Fire Scout. Note the covered cockpit windows and straight tail boom. The Fire Scout has neither of these.

    • d. kellogg

      I argued (debated) that same issue with some people: the MQ-8C (Jet Ranger lineage) looks nothing like the B model (Scheibel-whatever, some kinda kitcopter) other than being a helicopter, their argument being it was the systems that made Fire Scout, not the airframe.
      That would be like saying, we can put SPY-1 Aegis combat suite into a destroyer (Burke), but we’re still gonna call it a Tico.

  • mark


  • F. L. H. HUDKINS

    Various FRAM II destroyers operated DASH helo’s as a “SNOOPY” in Vietnam..
    One story was the operators aboard a tin can seen a VC winding up with a rock on the DASH TV monitor,which he threw at the DASH. It never returned. My ship, Frank E. Evans (DD-754) had DASH, but never got to use it operationally. One flew back out of control and struck one of our sister ships setting the superstructure on fire. Can’t recall the name of the ship — maybe WALKE or LARSON.

  • scott

    USS Hazelwood, DD 531, served as a developmental platform for DASH operations in the late 50’s out of Newport, Rhode Island.

  • Waydel123

    A friend of mine went through the complete training for the cargo drones scoring high on all phases of the training, the Navy using their usual logic stationed him shore side in quality control.

  • Ted Winzig

    I was on the USS Hazelwood DD531 1962 63.
    We converted our ship to having a flight deck and were experimenting with small helicopter drones when one got out of control came back down at an angle and killed a sailor. the higher ups scrapped the project. We were out of Newport RI at the time. Does anyone remember.

  • bill E

    I was the Desron 32 Dash Trouble shooter. On DD 757 Putnam out of Norfolk 1964-67 attached to Task force Alfa..
    We had set the landing record of 1000 landings. THE REAL PROBLEM WITH THE DASH PROGram was the pilots were washed out of flight school and it was a Army progrm. And there was no real support from NAVAir. And the Maintance techs were all low. Rated with no aviation history. The Uss Putnam lost one Dash due to pilot Error as were most of the other losses. It could have been a long time program if it had the support it deserived William Eisenhower ATC, Retired

  • Tbone

    Pretty shabby. It is however; a usable tale to defend cutting the size of the military.

  • Franks

    This is the C model and it’s based on the BH-407 not the BH-206, (although yes they are on the same type certificate with the FAA). Fully autonomous in this situation is the human telling the aircraft what to do prior to beginning the mission, then once the mission begins although possible there is no further interaction with the human. So, there is one final button to push and then the bird it’s on its own from take off to landing and shut down, thus, fully autonomous. And I’m pretty certain when the aircraft were/are used in not friendly countries (Afghanistan and Libya) the US is in control of them, not the bad guys.

  • yellowhammer

    Not the first Drone. I served in 68 aboard a fast attach submarine. In our “games” we were constantly aware of the drone helicopters launched off of destroyers, which carried the MK 37 torpedo. They were tough to evade. Not as pretty as the one shown. Looked more like a frame, engine and rotor with ordinance hanging below.

    Need to get the information straight. They have been around a long time.

  • Wayne R. Byard

    1965 USS Walke DD-723 off Long Beach California. I was there as an ET1 working on the DASH “Drone” helicopter guidance system and avionics. I was right there by the flight officer as he launched it for qualification trials of the “flight deck: of the Walke. This wasn’t even the “the first time an unmanned helicopter has operated from a destroyer,”, many more went before us!! Congrats to the crew of the Jason Dunham for their successful work with the MQ-8C.

  • Bill A Navy 73to91

    And next month they are going to test an underwater ship. Oh wait, that’s been done too.

  • john Bell

    If I remember correctly the DASH also received the nickname “SPLASH” after a few of it’s mishaps in the 60’s. Our hanger made a great location to have movie call when the weather was bad.

  • flash

    I was a crew
    member on the USS TROUT SS566 serving as a target submarine during the 60’s The DASH helicopter would carry a torpedo or dipping sonar against us. It was a massive failure. The electronics were deplorable but the helicopter was good…just could not be controlled well. many crashes trying to land it back on the ship. We were never hit by the torpedo either

  • dickeast01

    In reference to the DASH Helicopter, I was aboard the Vogelgesang summer of 64 as a NROTC 3rd class Midshipmen. I ended up flying Phantom’s so know a little about aviation. As I recall the DASH detachment had a compliment of men with one officer and one chief aboard. The Chief Petty Officer hand flew the drone on and off the ship and the Officer was in CIC for the mission. No one was allowed on deck during take off and recovery because I don’t think anyone was sure exactly where it was going. One of the early problems I remember discussing with I think the Chief was that when the drone dropped one of the two torpedoes it carried it would become unbalanced and crash. The theory was it could fly out and sit over a contact area and drop the torpedoes when commanded. Cruise took us to Operation Sail in New York Harbor and Quebec, Canada. Great memories.

  • giley1

    I think they need to increase it’s range capabilities to at least 300 miles and display a picture of what the copter views on the display

  • ccdc

    fake video

  • Mystick

    An R/C Jet Ranger… how much did we pay for this?

  • Rob C.

    Why they even calling a Fire Scout? It doesn’t resemble the aircraft at all! Its nice name, but that thing a self-flying Bell 407 Helicopter.

    • d. kellogg

      A more important issue is, the C model Jet Ranger derived Fire Scout occupies a larger deck footprint and takes up more volume in the hangar. Will that end up costing the ship 1 less airframe then? Will 2 C model Fire Scouts and a SeaHawk still fit? Or will the number drop to just 1 of each?

      Another issue: seeing as the C is obviously going to be considerably more expensive, it will be curious to see if they still risk it where they feared sending a manned helo, or will they regard as just as non-sacrificial as the SH-60? An important premise of drones is sending them into areas you wouldn’t risk human lives. But the more expensive the drones get, the less likely a captain wants the heat for losing one…

  • John Larsen

    I was also surprised Capt. Dodge didn’t know of the earlier Dash program. In 1970 we had five QH-50-D on the USS Shenandoah. That was the last year for them as many of them crashed.

  • Tom Mattfeld

    I was a mech(ADJ3 &2) on board the USS Cone DD 866 in 1968 assigned to QH50 and then the USS James C Owens DD776 in 1969,same assignment. Guess they forgot about the ‘old salts’ !!!!!!!!

  • JimThomas

    Bordelon DD 881 (DESRON 4) also had Dash as I think all the Fram 1s eventually did. The Cone and James C Owens were also in DESRON 4..

  • Dennis


    Seeking a better way to give Destroyers longer-range stand-off (operating at a greater distance from the enemy) weapons delivery capability, the Navy embarked on the development of using a droned co-axial helicopter to deliver torpedoes that was currently used in a manned configuration by the U.S. Marine Corp for scouting purposes. Built by a small firm in New York, the Gyrodyne Company was selected as prime contractor for this effort. From their first gasoline, Porsche powered DSN-1 to the turbine-engined QH-50D helicopter (seen left), Gyrodyne built and then managed the DASH Weapon System as one of the key “new weapon systems” installed during FRAM.

    USS Stormes DD780
    ETN3 Dennis Pisseri