Editor’s Note: The U.S. Air Force’s most sought-after Remotely-Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in recent years has been the MQ-9 Reaper. The airframe has been an absolute workhouse, and the operators have been asking for ways to extend its legs and keep it on station for a really long time. General Atomics answered, and the long-winged Reaper has officially arrived.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, [25 February 2016] announced the successful first flight of Predator® B/MQ-9 Reaper® Extended Range (ER) Long Wing, retrofitted with improved long-endurance wings with greater internal fuel capacity and additional hard points for carrying external stores. The flight occurred on February 18 at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Test Facility in Palmdale, Calif., on a test aircraft.

“Predator B ER’s new 79-foot wing span 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 Linden Blue, CEO. “The wing was designed to conform to STANAG 4671 [NATO Airworthiness Standard for RPA systems], and includes lightning and bird strike protection, non-destructive testing, and advanced composite and adhesive materials for extreme environments.”

During the flight, Predator B ER Long Wing demonstrated its ability to launch, climb to 7,500 feet (initial flight test altitude), complete basic airworthiness maneuvers, and land without incident. A subsequent test program will be conducted to verify full operational capability.

Predator B Extended Range during a recent test-flight. (Photo courtesy of General Atomics)
Predator B Extended Range during a recent test-flight. (Photo courtesy of General Atomics)

Developed on Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funds, the new wing span is 13-feet longer, increasing the aircraft’s endurance from 27 hours to over 40 hours. Additional improvements include short-field takeoff and landing performance and spoilers on the wings which enable precision automatic landings. The wings also have provisions for leading-edge  de-ice and integrated low- and high-band RF antennas. An earlier version of Predator B ER featuring two wing-mounted fuel tanks is currently operational with the U.S. Air Force as MQ-9 Reaper ER.

The original press release from General Atomics can be viewed here.

(Featured photo courtesy of General Atomics)

 

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