General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has completed the successful maiden flight of Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper extended range (ER) long wing on a test aircraft at its Gray Butte Flight Test Facility in Palmdale, California, US.
GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue said: "Predator B ER's new 79ft wing span not only boosts the RPA's endurance and range, but also serves as proof-of-concept for the next-generation Predator B aircraft that will be designed for Type-Certification and airspace integration.
"The wing was designed to conform to Stanag 4671 (Nato Airworthiness Standard for RPA systems), and includes lightning and bird strike protection, non-destructive testing, and advanced composite and adhesive materials for extreme environments."
During the flight, Predator B ER Long Wing launched and climbed to an initial flight test altitude of 7,500ft and completed basic airworthiness manoeuvres.
The new aircraft is an upgraded version of the Predator aircraft, which has been developed on internal research and development (IRAD) funds.
The aircraft is retrofitted with enhanced long-endurance wings, improved internal fuel capacity and increased capacity for carrying external stores.
The first flight is slated to be followed by a test programme that will help verify full operational capability of the aircraft.
The new wing, which is the first component to be produced as part of GA-ASI's Certifiable Predator B (CPB) development project, is 13ft longer than the previous versions, consequently increasing the aircraft's endurance from 27 hours to more than 40 hours.
Additionally, the aircraft is capable of facilitating precision automatic landings due to short-field takeoff and landing performance and spoilers on the wings.
It also features advanced de-ice and integrated low and high-band RF antennas.
Currently, the US Air Force (USAF) operates an earlier version of Predator B ER featuring two wing-mounted fuel tanks called the MQ-9 Reaper ER.
The company expects to produce a certifiable production aircraft in early 2018.