Northrop celebrates first Navy drone fuselage

Published 2:07 am Sunday, March 13, 2011

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems has completed work in Moss Point on the first drone fuselage for the Navy, part of a multibillion-dollar contract.

The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program is the Navy’s version of the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drone.

The Navy’s version of the drone is equipped with a multifunction active sensor, a 360-degree radar.

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Navy officials have said the unmanned drones will use one-tenth of the fuel and 25 percent less manpower than manned surveillance options. They can go up to 60,000 feet high for a better view, compared to only about 25,000 feet in a manned P-3 aircraft.

The drones also can be used to watch hurricanes, assess damage after tsunamis and other disasters and alert merchant ships of potential piracy.

The fuselage finished Thursday is the first of three in a $1.8 billion Navy design, development and construction contract. The Navy plan is to have 20 flying by 2019 and eventually order 68, a $10 billion prospect for Northrop.

Paul Diggs, deputy manager for the BAMS program’s integrated product team, said from Mississippi, the fuselage will go to Temecula, Calif., for calibration; Palmdale, Calif., for final assembly; back to Temecula for structural testing; then back to Palmdale “to finish buttoning it up.”

The first flight is scheduled for next May, he said.

Northrop’s high-tech assembly plant, just north of Trent Lott International Airport, employs 70.