An extended range variant of the MQ-9 Predator B (Reaper ER) remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) has been operationally fielded by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) last month, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announced.
A Reaper can be transformed into a Reaper ER through the integration of a field-retrofittable modification package consisting of two wing-mounted fuel tanks which significantly extend the aircraft’s maximum endurance. Reaper’s original external payload carriage configuration remains unchanged, providing the aircraft with a “mix and match” capability that allows it to carry both fuel tanks and an assortment of external payloads.
To increase thrust and improve takeoff performance at higher gross weights, an alcohol/water injection system and a four-bladed propeller were incorporated, along with a heavyweight trailing arm landing gear system that enables safe ground operations at the heavier gross weight. The new kit increases the mission endurance of the Reaper ER from 27 to 33-35 hours. GA-ASI is also investing in further increasing the ER capabilities, extending endurance to 42 hours, on ISR-only missions, by replacing the current fuel-filled 66-foot (20 m’) wings with 79-foot (24 m’) wings.
A Quick Reaction Capability [QRC] requirement, the Reaper ER program delivers 38 Reaper ER aircraft in 13 months. The customer required the new capability to be operational 18 months following contract award. the conversion process is expected to continue through mid 2016 and could be extended to include more RPAs. The ER modification package was designed to be field-retrofittable so that fuel tanks and associated equipment could be installed quickly and conveniently on current Reapers at worldwide locations.
“Reaper ER provides a tremendous capability increase in both range and endurance, and achieving this major program milestone wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication and commitment of our employees,” said Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “We are pleased that the Reaper ER program has met the expectations of our Air Force customer and satisfied the enormous challenge of their QRC schedule requirement.”