Last year I wrote about a new Northrop Grumman optionally-piloted surveillance aircraft, dubbed the 'Firebird'.
The prototype was a single-seat aircraft, but a new version (shown below - photograph courtesy of Northrop Grumman) has since been developed with two seats. According to Aviation Week, it made its first flight on November 12th.
Flown by two Northrop test pilots, the OPV made its first flight from Mojave, Calif., on Nov. 12. Powered by a single Lycoming TEO-540E piston engine, the twin-boom configured aircraft climbed to 3,880 ft. and reached a maximum speed of 100 kt. during a short, 6-min. circuit.
Some 30% larger than the Firebird demonstrator unveiled in 2011, the production-ready variant is 35.5 ft. in length and has a wingspan of 72.2 ft. The second pilot position was added at the request of the customer, adding a new dimension to the concept of a purpose-designed UAV with the option of an onboard pilot ... According to Northrop, the addition of the second seat now gives users the option of a co-pilot and/or sensor systems operator position, while retaining the original goal of providing a low-cost platform for persistent surveillance.
If not being operated in piloted mode, the Firebird UAV is designed to be commanded by a ground station to operate in either line-of-sight (LOS) unmanned mode or beyond-LOS mode.
There's more at the link.
If you like, you could think of this as a larger equivalent to a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, but with a two-person cockpit. The new-model Firebird will go into limited production, with two aircraft being built every year for the next five years. That makes it basically a hand-built rather than production-line aircraft, and means each individual plane can be modified extensively to meet changing requirements. I'll be watching to see whether the (so far unnamed) customer is identified, and where these aircraft turn up. Wherever it is, I'm sure they're going to be doing interesting things.