General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) said that an improved version of the Gray Eagle UAV flew for 45.3 hours on a demonstration flight earlier this month. The Gray Eagle was developed for the U.S. Army from the Predator UAS. The Improved Gray Eagle is a higher-power, higher-mtow version that GA-ASI developed using company funds, although the U.S. Army paid for the demo flight, the first of two planned by the end of the year.
The Improved Gray Eagle is powered by a 205-hp Lycoming DEL-120 diesel engine, and the mtow is boosted to 4,200 pounds. The original model had a 165-hp Thielert diesel engine and 3,600-pound mtow. Maximum fuel load is 1,300 pounds (850 pounds internal and 450 pounds in an optional centerline fuel pod) compared with 575 pounds. GA-ASI noted that the Improved Gray Eagle’s increased internal payload capacity (540 pounds versus 400 pounds) could be used to accommodate “an improved airworthiness design, with the potential of incorporating lightning protection, damage tolerance and Tcas features.”
The first endurance demonstration was flown with the UAV in a reconnaissance, surveillance and target-acquisition configuration. The second flight will be performed with wing-mounted payloads, including weapons.
GA-ASI has delivered 75 Block 1 Gray Eagles to the U.S. Army, which has deployed them to eight locations, including three overseas; four more sites are planned by January 2015. By then, GA-ASI plans to deliver another 34 aircraft. The Gray Eagle UAS has now logged more than 80,000 hours, including 20,000 successful sorties with the automatic takeoff and landing system (ATLS). “In addition to providing the Army with significant cost savings through optimized operator workload and training, Gray Eagle’s ATLS continues to increase the aircraft’s reliability,” said Frank Pace, president of GA-ASI’s aircraft systems group. U.S. Air Force Predators and Reapers do not have the ATLS; AIN understands that a significant proportion of accidents with those UAVs have been caused by takeoff or landing accidents.