The US Air Force (USAF) has successfully completed the first automated landing and take-off of an MQ-9 Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

Developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) features new automatic take-off and landing capability (ATLC) that helps increase the USAF’s mission capability.

GA-ASI Aircraft Systems president David R. Alexander said: “This new, all-weather capability greatly increases the autonomy, flexibility, combat effectiveness and safety of the MQ-9 Reaper for the USAF.

“Adding this level of automation will reduce the deployment burden of the warfighter and expand the scope of missions that can be flown by Air Force MQ-9s.”

Once deployed with the airforce, the MQ-9 Block 5 unmanned aircraft equipped with the new capability will help enhance the safety and efficiency of the aircrews.

“With the ability to travel at speeds of 240k, the RPA can operate at up to 50,000ft and has a payload capacity of 3,850lb.”

The auto launch and recovery capabilities that are available during critical phases of RPA flight help expand the operational scope for cross-wind operations, in addition to enabling divert field landing.

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The ATLC development programme is expected to be fielded during the second half of next year.

In May last year, GA-ASI secured a firm-fixed-price contract worth approximately $400m for the production of 36 units of the MQ-9 Reaper UAV for the USAF.

In October, the USAFs’ Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, US, replaced the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft systems with 16 MQ-9 Block 5 RPAs for its various areas of responsibility.

The Block 5 technology provided the combatant commanders with uninterrupted persistent attack and reconnaissance capabilities.

The USAF’s MQ-9 Reaper is a turboprop-powered, multi-mission unmanned aircraft that has a flight endurance of more than 27 hours.

With the ability to travel at speeds of 240k, the RPA can operate at up to 50,000ft and has a payload capacity of 3,850lb.