GRAND FORKS, N.D. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) flew its first test flight, the longest unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flight in civil airspace under an FAA waiver, and the first UAS flight through multiple satellite spot beams out of its new Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC) facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The GA-ASI Block 5 Predator B/MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), also known as an UAS or drone, flew a round-trip of approximately 1,075 nautical miles – the longest transit flown by an RPA in Class A civilian airspace under a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) granted by the FAA. The COA authorized the Block 5 MQ-9 to fly in airspace managed by air traffic controllers without the requirement of utilizing a “chase” airplane.
This was the longest transit flown by an RPA in Class A civilian airspace under a COA granted by the FAA. (Photo: Business Wire)
Additionally, this flight marked the first time an unmanned aircraft operated through multiple spot beams of a High-throughput Satellite (HTS), a new generation of satellites providing higher data throughput and interference mitigation. As an RPA’s mission distance increases, it needs to be able to transition seamlessly from one satellite beam to another. For this flight, the Block 5 MQ-9 communicated with two HTS beams.
“This flight signified several ‘firsts’ for us and for the industry,” explains David R. Alexander, president of aircraft systems at GA-ASI. “As we continue to demonstrate our ability to fly RPA safely alongside passenger planes, we further our efforts towards certifying the aircraft and increasing their mission possibilities in Class A civilian airspace.”
GA-ASI announced the completion of a new permanent hangar for its FTTC in Grand Forks on 21 August 2017. The new hangar replaces the temporary facility that had been in operation since June 2016. It houses GA-ASI operational hardware, including RPA and ground control stations, as well as offices and conference rooms. In addition to conducting flight tests, the FTTC operation operates an office building near the University of North Dakota campus that features classrooms and a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System for accomplishing the academic and simulator segments of training.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator® RPA series and the Lynx® Multi-mode Radar. Celebrating over 25 years of aviation innovation, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. The company also produces a variety of ground control stations and sensor control/image analysis software, offers pilot training and support services, and develops meta-material antennas.
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