MQ-9 Reaper Big Wing sets Predator flight endurance record

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The new Predator B has set a new endurance flight record for the Predator line(Credit: General Atomics)

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The latest version of General Atomics' unmanned Predator drone has set a new endurance record for the aircraft. In a 10-hour improvement over the previous Predator, the company reported its next-generation Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper Big Wing aircraft flew for over 37 hours non-stop while carrying out a simulated reconnaissance mission over California.

The Predator B Big Wing is the latest iteration of the Predator B line, which is one of the mainstay drones of the US Air Force, the RAF, as well as the forces of France, Italy, and the Netherlands. It made its first flight on February 18 at General Atomics' Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, California. The Big Wing moniker comes from the aircraft's 79-ft (24-m) wingspan that is 13 ft (4 m) longer than its predecessor. It also boasts a larger internal fuel capacity that boosts flight time from 27 to 42 hours.

In addition to greater flight endurance, the Big Wing has better short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities and active lift spoilers for precision automatic landings. This combines with more hardpoints for carrying weapons and equipment as well as improved flight software, a hardened structure for less fatigue and a better ability to handle combat and adverse weather. Added to this are integrated low- and high-band Radio Frequency (RF) antennae and the option of a leading-edge deicing system.

Today's announcement follows a test flight in which the Big Wing lifted off, flew to its operational altitude, carried out loitering and recon maneuvers, and then landed after a total flight time of 37.5 hours.

The company says that it will continue development of the Big Wing under its Certifiable Predator B (CPB) project with the goal of improving its performance and seeking certification in early 2018.

"This long-endurance flight demonstrates Predator B Big Wing's game-changing potential for providing life-saving persistent [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] in support of U.S. and coalition warfighters," says David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. "Our company continually strives to extend Predator B's already impressive endurance further, pushing the aircraft's capabilities to its full potential."

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