General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA‑ASI) said it completed the first flight of a Predator B variant built to NATO airworthiness requirements on November 17. The manufacturer is readying the Type Certifiable Predator B (TCPB) for delivery to the UK Royal Air Force in 2018.
GA-ASI initiated the effort to modify its Predator B remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) as an internally funded development program in 2012. The maiden flight took place at its Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, Calif., the manufacturer announced more than a week later on November 28.
By building the Predator B to safety and certification requirements that are comparable to those for manned aircraft, the TCPB will be capable of flying more freely in civilian unrestricted airspace and between countries. The UK Royal Air Force is the launch customer of the “certifiable” variant; on November 16, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress that the UK has requested a foreign military sale of 16 of the variants, with an option for 10 more, to replace its current fleet of MQ-9 Reapers.
The TCPB has a 79-foot wingspan—13 feet longer than the standard Reaper—and has greater endurance and payload capability.
“The first flight of our Certifiable Predator B aircraft is a major milestone in our progression toward delivering an RPA that meets all NATO airworthiness requirements,” said CEO Linden Blue. “The TCPB is the first RPA system of its kind to be compliant with an international type-certification standard, and can therefore be more easily integrated into civil airspace operations around the world.”
The TCPB complies with NATO’s STANAG 4671 “UAV Systems Airworthiness Requirements” standard, a document released in 2007 that established airworthiness requirements for military fixed-wing unmanned aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of up to 20,000 kg (44,092 pounds). The standard does not dictate a “sense and avoid” solution, describing that as “primarily an operational issue,” but would treat any such system as installed equipment subject to its requirements.
The TCPB also complies with certification requirements for unmanned aircraft contained in UK Defence Standard (DEF STAN) 00-970, which uses STANAG 4671 for guidance.
GA-ASI will build three company-owned aircraft, plus two airframes intended for full-scale fatigue and static testing. The manufacturer said qualification testing for type certification of the TCPB will continue over the next two years. It expects to begin delivering the aircraft to the RAF in late 2018.
The TCPB “will be offered in several configurations, including an unweaponized maritime patrol variant to support open-ocean and littoral surface surveillance for border patrol, coast guard and disaster relief missions,” GA-ASI said.