Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Predator C "Gray Eagle" slated to begin tests at Edwards


By Guy Nor

General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) expects to get the go-ahead from FAA to start tests of the stealthy, turbofan-powered unmanned Predator C Avenger at the U.S. Air Force’s Edwards Air Force Base test range in California.

“We anticipate receiving approval from the FAA in the immediate future to fly into the Edwards AFB range so that we may complete full envelope flight testing,” says GA-ASI Chairman and CEO Neal Blue. The V-tailed, swept-wing vehicle first flew on April 4 last year and, according to GA-ASI at the time, was provisionally slated to undertake a test program lasting up to three months.

Despite what appears to be a longer-than-expected evaluation, Blue adds that “flight tests of the Predator C Avenger are progressing as expected, with routine issues being addressed as the testing process continues.”

Up until now, Avenger flight tests have been undertaken in relatively restricted airspace close to the company’s test facilities in the Mojave Desert; the transfer to the Edwards range will allow tests at higher altitudes and speeds. The Avenger’s operational altitude is up to 60,000 feet, and the Pratt Whitney Canada PW545B engine is expected to give the vehicle a top speed “considerably greater” than 400 knots, according to GA-ASI. Blue adds that a second aircraft is due to be completed later this year.

The transition of the Predator C to the range comes as initial tests wrap up on the two latest variants of the current Predator for the U.S. Army and Customs and Border Protection Service. Weapons tests of the U.S. Army’s MQ-1C Sky Warrior, a heavily modified derivative of the Predator A, were successfully completed earlier this month following the last live firings of nine Hellfire P+ missiles. The version of the Lockheed Martin Hellfire II is the first to be specifically developed for a UAV and is designed with a full 360-degree targeting capability.


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