The French Air Force has successfully completed the first flight of MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft at Cognac air base in France.
It flew for just over 5 hours around the airspace north of the base, where it has been stationed for a few weeks.
The flight validated the performance of the unmanned aircraft, tested the calibration of emergency parameters and verified satellite links.
The test was also conducted to extend launch and recovery element (LRE) qualifications to land the Reaper.
Testing shows that the Drone Squadron 1/33 “Belfort” will now be able to operate the Reaper over metropolitan France on a daily basis, giving the air force the increased autonomy of being able to train its own crews.
The Drone Squadron 1/33 is expected to have a total of 12 aircraft, which will be operated by 30 crew.
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The squadron currently operates six Reaper aircraft to provide intelligence and support capabilities to Operation Barkhane and to the Special Forces.
Since January 2014, the unmanned aircraft have recorded more than 15,000 flying hours.
Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the turboprop-powered, multi-mission aircraft has an endurance of over 27 hours and can travel at speeds of 240KTAS.
MQ-9 Reaper can operate up to 50,000ft and has the capacity to carry 1746kg of payload.
Equipped with a fault-tolerant flight control system and triple redundant avionics system architecture, it is designed to meet and exceed reliability standards of manned aircraft.
Image: The MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft. Photo: courtesy of David Pujo.