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Improved Gray Eagle Completes 45.3-Hour Endurance Demonstration

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) announced the successful completion of the first of two U.S. Army endurance demonstration flights using their Improved Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system (UAS). The announcement was made at the 2013 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 22.

“This first endurance flight is a significant accomplishment for Improved Gray Eagle, as it demonstrates the aircraft’s game-changing potential for saving the lives of Army soldiers abroad by providing extended surveillance coverage, along with the ability to self-transit to other remote distant locations.”

The Improved Gray Eagle UAS endurance demonstration started on Oct. 11 at the GA-ASI El Mirage Flight Operation Facility in Adelanto, Calif. The Improved Gray Eagle took to the air at 6:56 a.m. and landed 45.3 hours later at 4:16 a.m. on Oct. 13. “This first endurance flight is a significant accomplishment for Improved Gray Eagle as it demonstrates the aircraft’s game-changing potential for saving the lives of Army soldiers abroad by providing extended surveillance coverage, along with the ability to self-transit to other remote distant locations,” said Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems Group, GA-ASI. The Improved Gray Eagle demonstration flight was made while the UAS was in a reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition configuration.

Improved Gray Eagle

The Improved Gray Eagle is an outgrowth of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. photo

The Improved Gray Eagle is an outgrowth of the existing MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS, which has faced its share of reliability questions. The “Improved” moniker comes from an increased endurance capability as well as a higher payload capacity. Max gross takeoff weight for the Improved Gray Eagle is 4,200 pounds, courtesy of the 250 horsepower Lycoming DEL-120 engine. The standard Gray Eagle has a 3,600-pound max gross takeoff weight and 160 horsepower engine.

The 45.3 hour non-stop flight can be further explained by the increase in fuel capacity. The Improved Gray Eagle has a 500-pound centerline hard point that allows the aircraft to carry 450 pounds of fuel externally, along with 850 pounds of internal fuel through an expanded “deep belly” design. The Gray Eagle is limited to carrying a fuel load of 575 pounds. GA-ASI has claimed that the use of the fuel pod would allow for a reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition-configured Improved Gray Eagle to perform missions in excess of 50 hours.

The Improved Gray Eagle has a 500-pound centerline hard point that allows the aircraft to carry 450 pounds of fuel externally, along with 850 pounds of internal fuel.

Payload size has also been increased with the Improved Gray Eagle. The Gray Eagle’s 400-pound internal payload capacity has been increased to 540 pounds. The extra internal payload provides growth margin for additional features to be added to the aircraft, including lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a traffic collision avoidance system.

Testing for the Improved Gray Eagle is supported by the Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, which has funded two demonstration flights in 2013 that are aimed at validating the enhanced capabilities. The second demonstration flight will be made with the Improved Gray Eagle carrying wing-mounted external payload and weapons.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...