Gary Robbins
Sign On San Diego
May 9, 2011

Northrop Grumman will today unveil a small new spy plane that it secretly developed in San Diego and the Mojave Desert to compete in the fast growing market for aircraft that can do everything from stalk terrorists to patrol borders to provide live video of natural disasters.

The 34-foot Firebird was designed to operate as an unmanned aerial vehicle — like Northrop’s well-known Global Hawk drone — or as a piloted plane that could fly from a general aviation airport. Manned aircraft can be deployed more quickly than UAVs, and they face fewer airspace restrictions.

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Firebird was built for Northrop by Scaled Composites of Mojave, the aerospace company that created SpaceShipOne, the first private manned rocket to soar into space. Scaled was founded by legendary engineer Burt Rutan, who was involved in the design of Firebird before he retired last year, Northrop says.

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