The unmanned aerial vehicle industry is moving so fast, if you blink at the wrong time, you might miss a $2.6 billion contract. And as a matter of fact, I did …

Among the many, many UAV variants out there, one that's always intrigued me is Northrop Grumman's (NYSE: NOC) remotely piloted helicopter drone, the Fire Scout. We've discussed this whirlybird before, covering its early test flights on drug patrol in the in the eastern Pacific. We’ve also noted its imminent upgrade, dubbed the Fire-X.

We knew the Navy was happy with the Fire Scout -- at one point officials exclaimed it was performing "wonderfully." But at some point, the U.S. Navy fell so in love with the Fire Scout that it ordered 168 of 'em, and offered to pay $2.6 billion. So reported the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

Why is this important? Boeing (NYSE: BA), Honeywell (NYSE: HON), and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX) all have helicopter-based UAVs in various stages of development. But Northrop has grabbed air superiority over its rivals, and the lion's share of whatever Pentagon funds might still be available for buying this particular flavor of UAV.

Advantage: Northrop.

Put Northrop and its Fire Scout on your investing radar screen. Add it to your Fool Watchlist.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Northrop Grumman, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors