General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has demonstrated three expanded Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) enhancements for the MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial system (UAS), as part of its ongoing contract with the U.S. Air Force for modernization of the aircraft.
The new MQ-9A improvements provide the aircraft with a significant increase in operational flexibility. The first enables the MQ-9A to land at an alternate or “divert” airfield at which no Ground Control Station (GCS) is present, under satellite communication (SATCOM) control. The second enhancement expands the cross-wind limits of the aircraft. The third increases the maximum landing weight for both normal and emergency landings.
The “divert landing” upgrade allows remote pilots to enter the coordinates of the new landing area and let the aircraft automatically land at the selected location, or to overfly and self-survey the divert airfield’s runway to obtain these coordinates using the MQ-9A’s multispectral Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor. Once the coordinates are uploaded to the aircraft’s mission profile, the aircrew enables the ATLC system, allowing the aircraft to automatically manoeuvre itself into a landing pattern and make the landing.
David R. Alexander, GA-ASI President, commented: “This achievement will enable operational MQ-9As to land at alternate airfields, on their own, in case of inclement weather, changing mission requirements, or damaged runways. These upgrades will improve mission-effectiveness tremendously.”
“All three enhancements provide MQ-9A aircrews with increased runway options, as well as expanded weather tolerances that greatly improve mission flexibility, operational availability and time on station. It will also lead to a substantial reduction in aircrew.”