Improved Gray Eagle® (IGE) is an advanced version of the combat-proven Block 1 Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system (UAS) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI). It is intended to meet the next-generation combat needs of the US Army warfighters.
The aircraft offers extended endurance, increased payload capacity, and high-reliability. Its mission capabilities include surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition, communications relay, and weapons delivery.
GA-ASI’s Predator / Gray Eagle-series aircraft surpassed the three million flight-hour milestone in October 2014.
IGE UAS development and demonstration
MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an extended range / multipurpose (ER/MP) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the US Army.
Development of Improved Gray Eagle UAS was supported by Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funds.
The aircraft’s maiden flight took place at GA-ASI’s El Mirage Flight Operations Facility in Adelanto, California, in July 2013. The UAS performed first of two endurance demonstration flights funded by the Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office in October 2013.
A test flight was conducted at the El Mirage Flight Operations Facility. This demonstrated IGE’s ability to endure for more than 45 hours in reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) configuration.
The second endurance flight, funded by the US Army’s Product Office for Medium Altitude Endurance (PM-MAE) UAS, was conducted in January 2014. During the flight, the IGE prototype UAS was flown for more than 36 hours with the integration of external signals intelligence (SIGINT) pod and two Hellfire air-to-surface missiles under the wings.
GA-ASI announced its plans to build the second IGE aircraft in May 2014.
Design, features and capacities of Improved Gray Eagle
The IGE features open, modular architecture and its deep belly fuselage allows carriage of a variety of payloads. It is air-transportable internally by C-130 Hercules turboprop military transport aircraft.
An automatic take-off and landing system (ATLS) supports the aircraft’s automated launch and recovery operations, while a de-icing system allows the air vehicle to safely fly in icing conditions. The UAS can also be fitted with improved airworthiness design, lightning protection features, damage tolerance, and a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS).
The UAS can carry up to 540lb of payloads internally. It is equipped with an upgraded 500lb centerline hard point for the carriage of an 860lb of internal fuel load or a 360° sensor payload. It can be optionally integrated with an external fuel pod for an additional 450lb of fuel.
Sensors aboard IGE unmanned aircraft
The Improved Gray Eagle drone can be integrated with three payloads simultaneously. Its triple redundant avionics and flight controls, and redundant flight control surfaces provide higher reliability.
Satellite communications, Common Data Link (CDL) line-of-sight communications, and air data relay communications facilitate secure transmission / reception of imagery and telemetry data between the air vehicle and ground segment.
Meanwhile an electro-optical / infrared (EO/IR) payload camera, which is mounted under the nose of the aircraft, is used for gathering intelligence and surveillance data. The drone also features a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and a Ground Moving Target Indicator.
The unmanned air system and its payloads will be controlled by the US Army One System Ground Control Station (OSGCS) and the future Universal Ground Control System (UGCS).
The IGE UAS runs on Lycoming DEL-120 Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE), which has a generating capacity of 205hp. It has a maximum gross take-off weight of 4,200lb.
Performance of Improved Gray Eagle UAS
Maximum airspeed for the Improved Gray Eagle is 167kts and it can reach a maximum altitude of 29,000ft. It also has a maximum flight time of 48 hours, which can be extended for more than 50 hours with an additional fuel tank.