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Northrop Grumman shows off optionally piloted Firebird spy plane [Video]

May 9, 2011 | 11:16 am

Northrop Grumman Corp. has released video of its new optionally piloted Firebird drone as it coasted through the skies above the Mojave Desert.

A story about the spy plane, which can operate with or without a pilot sitting in the cockpit, and its capabilities appeared in Monday's Times.

The Century City-based company has quietly developed the Firebird over the last two years at its Scaled Composites design shop in the Mojave. The aircraft was one of the last designs overseen by renowned aerospace engineer Burt Rutan before he retired from the company in April.

Northrop said the spy plane began flight testing early last year. So the company had plenty of material to choose from to put together the YouTube clip -- which with its jump cuts and shots of behind-the-scenes design work has the feel of a music video.

Northrop does not have a government contract for the Firebird. It is developing the propeller-powered plane at its own expense. The company hopes to get the government's attention later this month at the Pentagon's Empire Challenge, a showcase where defense firms demonstrate technologies that can be used in the field in the near term.

The Firebird is designed to fly at 30,000 feet at speeds of about 230 mph.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

Twitter.com/wjhenn

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