General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has successfully completed the initial test flight of the US Army's Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS), at its El Mirage flight operations facility in Adelanto, California.
A next-generation derivative of combat-proven Block 1 Gray Eagle UAS, IGE features increased endurance, with 23 more hours for reconnaissance operations, 50% greater payload than its predecessor and offering 50% more fuel capacity, through its deep belly fuselage.
The aircraft also features an upgraded centreline hardpoint, which enables integration of a 500lb optional external fuel tank or 360° sensor payload, over twice the capability of the Block I Gray Eagle.
GA-ASI Aircraft Systems Group president Frank Pace said IGE system is designed to provide the army with a game-changing capability: increased endurance and reliability.
"The first flight of this aircraft ushers in a new era in unmanned aviation, building upon the successes of its predecessor and providing unmatched, life-saving support for our troops abroad," Pace said.
The drone's improved heavy fuel engine (HFE) combined with additional space facilitates growth capability for an enhanced airworthiness design, alongside the potential of installation of lightning protection, damage tolerance and traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) features.
Additional equipment includes triple redundant avionics, redundant flight controls/surfaces, as well as electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payloads.
The aircraft, which is currently operational, is awaiting a full-rate production decision in June.
An upgrade of the combat-proven MQ-1 Predator, MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an extended-range multipurpose (ERMP) Hellfire missile-equipped UAS, designed to conduct long-endurance surveillance, communications relay, signals intelligence (SIGINT) and weapons delivery operations in the battlefield.
Having logged more than 70,000 flight hours since 2008, the medium altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS can also be configured for convoy protection, improvised explosive device (IED) detection and defeat, and close air support missions.
Image: The Improved Gray Eagle is an upgraded variant of the US Army's existing Block 1 Gray Eagle UAS. Photo: courtesy of US Army.