General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI, San Diego, Calif., USA), a manufacturer of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), tactical reconnaissance radars, and electro-optic surveillance systems, announced on July 26 the successful first flight of the U.S. Army’s Improved Gray Eagle (IGE), a next-generation derivative of the combat-proven Block 1 Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that has accumulated more than 70,000 flight hours since 2008. The flight occurred at the company’s El Mirage Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
“Improved Gray Eagle will provide a game-changing capability, adding more endurance, more payload carriage, with increased reliability for our Army customer,” says Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems Group, GA-ASI. “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.”
IGE is a capability enhancement over the Block 1 Gray Eagle configuration and was designed for increased endurance, with 23 additional hours for reconnaissance missions. The aircraft’s payload capacity features 50-plus percent more payload carriage than Gray Eagle, while also offering 50 percent more fuel capacity via its deep belly fuselage. An upgraded centerline hardpoint supports integration of a 500-lb/227 kg optional external fuel tank or 360° sensor payload — more than twice the capability of the current Gray Eagle. Lastly, IGE’s additional space, combined with an improved Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE), provides growth capability for an improved airworthiness design, with the potential of incorporating lightning protection, damage tolerance and Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) features.