The Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has taken its first flight from a combat ship. Taking off from the USS Montgomery, the MQ-8C demonstrated its ability to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities autonomously for US Navy ships at sea.

Watch the MQ-8C Fire Scout in Action

The sea trials took place off the coast of California aboard the Independence-class vessel USS Montgomery, and follows an earlier flight test aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunman. Manufacturer Northrop Grumman says the event puts the aircraft one step closer to full operational capability.

“Fire Scout’s autonomous technology coupled with the range and endurance of the MQ-8C airframe is truly a game-changer,” Northrop Grumman’s Leslie Smith said in a press release. “When the MQ-8C deploys with its advanced AESA maritime radar, the U.S. Navy will have unmatched situational awareness and the ability to provide sea control in any contested maritime environment.” – UPI

The Fire Scout first flew in 2013 and the Navy plans to have 96 aircraft built at an estimated cost of $18 million each. The MQ-8C can fly at a maximum speed of 140 knots for up to 15 hours and has a service ceiling of 20,000 feet. It is just over 34 feet long, 10.9 feet tall, can carry a payload of almost 3000 pounds and has a maximum takeoff weight of 6000 pounds.

Featured image of Sailors aboard littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8) and employees of Northrop Grumman conducting a foreign objects and debris walk down of the flight deck in preparation for ground turns and telemetry testing of an MQ-8C Fire Scout while moored at Naval Base San Diego by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Eshleman, US Navy

MQ-8C Fire Scout Makes First Flight Off a Combat Ship