General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. announced Dec. 8 the start of flight testing for its MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range series with the successful first flight of the company’s production representative MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER from its El Mirage flight operations facility in Adelanto, Calif., on Oct. 29.
“The flight of our capital MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System] is a significant milestone in the continued evolution of the MQ-1C program with our U.S. Army customer,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “This marks the next step in delivering the aircraft’s increased endurance and payload capability to the war fighter.”
MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER, developed by GA-ASI on Internal Research and Development specifically to increase endurance and payload capacity, is a next-generation derivative of the combat-proven Gray Eagle UAS, which has accumulated more than 300,000 flight hours since 2008. MQ-1C ER is expected to complete flight testing in June 2017, at which point it will begin a series of Army test events culminating in the programs second Follow-On Operational Test and Evaluation in late 2017. The first four aircraft are expected to be delivered in the second and third quarter of 2017, with an additional 15 over the course of 2018.
MQ-1C ER delivers an advanced Medium-altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) capability for the Army, adding increased payload capacity, greater range and endurance, and improved maintainability. The aircraft is engineered with a maximum gross takeoff weight of 4,200 pounds compared with Gray Eagle’s 3,600 pounds. The incorporation of MQ-1C ER’s straight belly design allows for more than 910 pounds of internal fuel and a centerline hard point that can accommodate an optional fuel pod with an additional 450 pounds. With endurance at more than 40 hours, the aircraft will exceed the Army’s requirement for 14 hour son station at 1,000 kilometers for all mission types.
MQ-1C ER features an upgraded heavy fuel engine (HFE-180) which provides increased horsepower and reliability. HFE-180 includes propulsion reliability enhancements, and improved cooling system and high-performance induction system. The new engine began flight tests on Block 1 Gray Eagle in February 2016.
MQ-1C ER’s enhanced capabilities will expand the tactical range for intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, electronic warfare, and attack missions for the U.S. Army and other prospective customers.