By Lt. Jonathan LaQuay
The Navy’s first functional UAS-only activity maintenance detachment achieved its “safe for flight” status Jan. 16, allowing the unit to conduct its initial functional check flight with the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned air system just six days later.
Established in March 2014, the Helicopter Sea Combat Wing (HSCWP), U.S. Pacific Fleet, Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) Maintenance Detachment is based at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), Point Mugu, California, where it stores and maintains MQ-8B unmanned helicopters, bringing them to fully functional status before they are allocated to the fleet for operational use.
“The Fire Scout has excelled in continuous deployments, with more than 10,000 hours in support of special operation forces and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” said Capt. Larry Vincent, commodore of HSCWP, “but this support placed an unplanned burden on the [air vehicles]. Working closely with the Fire Scout program office (PMA-266), HSCWP continues to address these challenges as it ramps up to support to littoral combat ship deployments.”
Currently, the detachment coordinates the maintenance of four MQ-8B air vehicles and will provide all MQ-8B maintenance support for future West Coast deployments as it owns the only shore-based MQ-8B mission control station.
After deployments, air vehicles will return to Point Mugu for repair and depart the base in a flyable and fully “up” status for operational use. The team has already successfully returned one Fire Scout back to flying status and is in the process of grooming another for fleet operations.
HSCWP VTUAV will also eventually act as the organizational-level storage and maintenance facility for the larger MQ-8C variant, which is still undergoing test and evaluation at NBVC Point Mugu. An upgrade to the MQ-8B, the Navy’s newer unmanned helicopter will provide longer endurance, extended range and altitude, and a heavier payload capacity than the MQ-8B.
“Standing up any unit presents challenges,” Vincent said. “HSCWP VTUAV was no exception and the unique aspect of UAS exhibited new ones.”
One example Vincent provided was about designating airspace for the UAS. “The HSCWP contract logistics support detachment wrestled with new territory implementing sustained flight operations with UAS flights in national and special-use airspace,” he said. “The combined effort of NBVC Point Mugu and the HSCWP VTUAV maintenance detachment has accepted this challenge in stride and welcomes the arrival of UAS.”
From maintenance material support to air operations support, NBVC Point Mugu has ensured the smooth integration of the HSCWP VTUAV Maintenance Detachment onto the base. Situated along the coast, about 60 miles west of Los Angeles, with a 36,000-square-mile sea test range and very moderate climate, NBVC Point Mugu serves as an ideal flying location. NBVC Point Mugu was the first naval base to obtain a Class Delta Airspace Certificate of Waiver or Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, which permits a UAS to operate in the national airspace.
Once fully staffed in July, the detachment will be composed of 14 military personnel and 24 contractors. Navy personnel will oversee contract support and serve as UAS operators, and Kay and Associates will provide aircraft maintenance.
Lt. Jonathan LaQuay is the HSCWP VTUAV Maintenance Detachment officer-in-charge.
The Program Executive Office (Unmanned & Weapons) Public Affairs Office also contributed to this article.