U.S. government and industry testers plan to begin data-gathering flights later this year using a system that will address perhaps the biggest technological hurdle to widespread use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)–the ability of a remotely piloted vehicle to “detect and avoid” (DAA) other aircraft. At the same time, a special committee convened by standards organization RTCA is working toward delivering DAA equipment standards by July 2016.
The latest generation of the “Gorgon Stare” wide-area surveillance system has reached initial operational capability (IOC) in Afghanistan, lead contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) announced on July 1. Fitted to a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, the system is providing the U.S. Air Force’s only operational capability for day/night persistent wide-area motion imagery, the company said.
Airbus Defence & Space (D&S), Alenia and Dassault Aviation have proposed a Project Definition (PD) study for a future European medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV to the governments of France, Germany and Italy. At the same time, however, Airbus D&S may be working with Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) to develop what it describes as “bridging solution” for the German armed forces, using the Heron TP. Meanwhile, General Atomics–Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) is quietly confident that Germany may join the European “Reaper Club” that already comprises France, Italy and the UK as members.
The U.S. Navy released a draft request for proposal (RFP) for the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike system (UClass) air segment to four contractors on April 17. The service expects to release a final RFP later this year.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) recently reported on a second flying demonstration of an MQ-9 Reaper in the electronic warfare (EW) role. The UAV flew with the Northrop Grumman Pandora EW system inside special pods designed by GA-ASI. The combination flew from MCAS Yuma, Ariz., last April and again in October during a Marine Corps exercise.
A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper crashed into Lake Ontario November 13 after a satellite link to the drone failed. The Reaper was being operated by the 174th Attack Wing from Wheeler Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum, N.Y., in military controlled airspace above 18,000 feet when control was lost. Another drone, an MQ-1B Predator, crashed at Holloman AFB New Mexico a month ago.
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.
Slowly but surely, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are entering the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) despite a regulatory regime that was previously considered prohibitive to all but government agencies and research institutions. Unmanned aircraft have flown for the first time commercially in remote Arctic airspace, and companies are considering or have already begun the process of obtaining FAA airworthiness certification of their UAS designs.
An MQ-1 Predator UAV supported firefighters in their efforts to control the huge California Rim Fire in August-September, according to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI). The company noted that the UAV’s more-than-24-hour endurance offered a “value-added capability” over helicopters, which ground commanders had relied on previously but are required to refuel every two hours.
Even as French aircrews began training in the U.S. on the Reaper UAS, EADS Cassidian announced that it had received a one-year extension to its support contract for the Harfang UAS that the French air force intends to replace with the American drone. Cassidian also noted that the similar Heron UAS operated by the German air force and supported by the company has logged 15,000 hours over Afghanistan. The Germans are also considering a Reaper buy as a replacement for the Israeli-origin UAVs.
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