General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and related mission systems solutions, has announced the successful first flight of its Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper Extended Range (ER) Long Wing, retrofitted with improved long-endurance wings with greater internal fuel capacity and additional hard points for carrying external stores. The flight occurred at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Test Facility in Palmdale, Calif., on a test aircraft.
“Predator B ER’s new 79-foot wing span not only boosts the RPA’s endurance and range, but also serves as proof-of-concept for the next-generation Predator B aircraft that will be designed for Type-Certification and airspace integration,” said Linden Blue, CEO. “The wing was designed to conform to STANAG 4671 [NATO Airworthiness Standard for RPA systems], and includes lightning and bird strike protection, non-destructive testing, and advanced composite and adhesive materials for extreme environments.”
During the flight, Predator B ER Long Wing demonstrated its ability to launch, climb to 7,500 feet (initial flight test altitude), complete basic airworthiness maneuvers, and land without incident. A subsequent test program will be conducted to verify full operational capability.
Developed on Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funds, the new wing span is 13-feet longer, increasing the aircraft’s endurance from 27 hours to over 40 hours. Additional improvements include short-field takeoff and landing performance and spoilers on the wings which enable precision automatic landings. The wings also have provisions for leading-edge de-ice and integrated low- and high-band RF antennas. An earlier version of Predator B ER featuring two wing-mounted fuel tanks is currently operational with the U.S. Air Force as MQ-9 Reaper ER.
The long wings are the first components to be produced as part of GA-ASI’s Certifiable Predator B (CPB) development project, which will lead to a certifiable production aircraft in early 2018. Further hardware and software upgrades planned for CPB will include improved structural fatigue and damage tolerance, more robust flight control software, and enhancements allowing operations in adverse weather.