General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has carried out successful lightning tests on the second full-scale MQ-9B remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) at its facility in Poway, California, US.

The MQ-9B aircraft is the latest variant of the company’s Predator B fleet of RPAs.

The test was conducted jointly by engineers from GA-ASI and NTS Pittsfield, a US-based engineering consultant that focuses on the development of advanced lightning protection systems.

During trials, a scaled lightning current was injected onto the structure of the unmanned aircraft to simulate a direct lightning strike. The current flowed along the aircraft structure and exited from a predetermined return location.

“Capable of being easily configured with a number of mission payloads, the highly modular aircraft is equipped with an advanced Detect and Avoid system.”

The test confirmed interaction between the airframe structure, integrated equipment and cabling configuration, which demonstrated the effectiveness of the lightning protection design for the aircraft.

GA-ASI Aircraft Systems president David R Alexander said: “One of the important design goals for MQ-9B is to deliver an RPA that can be certified to fly in national airspace.

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“The successful completion of these lightning tests is an extremely important step towards achieving airworthiness certification in segregated airspace.”

The company will use the same lightning protection technology for its proposed MQ-25 unmanned aerial refuelling tanker for the US Navy.

Capable of being easily configured with a number of mission payloads, the highly modular aircraft is equipped with an advanced Detect and Avoid system. It includes space, weight and power provisions to facilitate the retrofitting of an airborne Due Regard Radar for operation in non-cooperative airspace.

In April, GA-ASI received an $81m contract from the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center for the UK MQ-9B Protector programme, which will provide the Royal Air Force (RAF) with a weaponised variant of the RPA system.

The RAF’s MQ-9B Protector will be capable of flying at up to 210k for more than 40 hours, reach altitudes exceeding 40,000ft and carry an external payload of 4750lb.