General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has flown an extended-range, extended-wing variant of its MQ-9 Predator B that is capable of staying aloft for more than 40 hours. Under development as part of the manufacturer’s “Certifiable Predator B” effort, the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is being built to NATO airworthiness standards.
The MQ-9 Reaper ER Long Wing completed its first flight on February 18 from GA-ASI’s Gray Butte flight-test facility in Palmdale, Calif., northeast of Los Angeles. The new variant demonstrated its ability to launch, climb to an initial flight-test altitude of 7,500 feet, complete basic airworthiness maneuvers, and land without incident, the manufacturer said.
The Long Wing aircraft has a 79-foot wingspan, 13 feet longer than the standard Reaper, which with greater internal fuel capacity increases its endurance from 27 to more than 40 hours. The wings have additional hard points for carrying external stores and provisions for leading-edge deicing and integrated low- and high-band RF antennas. Other improvements include short-field takeoff and landing capability and spoilers on the wings that support precision automatic landings, GA-ASI said.
The longer wingspan is a component of the Certifiable Predator B effort to produce a NATO-certifiable production aircraft by early 2018. The certifiable aircraft is the basis for the UK Royal Air Force’s new “Protector” platform, which will replace its current MQ-9 Reaper fleet.
“Predator B ER’s new 79-foot wingspan 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 CEO Linden Blue. “The wing was designed to conform to STANAG 4671 (NATO airworthiness standard) and includes lightning and bird strike protection, non-destructive testing, and advanced composite and adhesive materials for extreme environments.”
Under a quick-reaction capability tasking, GA-ASI earlier delivered to the U.S. Air Force more than 40 Reapers with wing-mounted external fuel tanks that increase its endurance to 35 hours. The service first fielded the extended-range Reaper last August.
At the recent Singapore Airshow, China’s National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (Catic) exhibited a model that roughly resembled the new Reaper variant. However, without explanation, Catic removed the model of the Chengdu Wing Loong II soon after the airshow began.