UAS and Robotics

Predator demos sense-and-avoid system with first air-to-air radar

Armed MQ-9 Predator

The MQ-9 Predator B’s sense and avoid technology included an early versions of “Due Regard Radar.”

Drone maker General Atomics Aeronautical Systems said it has flight-tested an early version of a "sense-and-avoid radar" function mounted on its MQ-9 Predator B drone.

The company also said an extended range version of the MQ-1 Predator set a new record Predator endurance record earlier this month, remaining aloft for nearly two days during an endurance flight test.

The sense-and-avoid flight test, a pre-production version of the "Due Regard Radar," was billed as the first air-to-air radar mounted on a remotely piloted aircraft capable of meeting the requirements for "due regard" operations in international airspace. Due regard radars are equipped with automatic collision avoidance and sensor fusion capabilities designed to provide operators with improved situational awareness.

The systems are generally interoperable with traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) used in most commercial aircraft.

Sense-and-avoid technology is an essential component of future plans for unmanned aircraft use, particularly in domestic airspace, whether involving commercial flights or military training exercises (the recent tests were carried out in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and Honeywell). The Air Force last fall invested $23.5 million to continue development of sense-and-avoid systems that can be added to aircraft without having to make modifications to the craft itself. And in December, the Army installed the first of five planned ground-based systems at Fort Hood, Texas. But getting air-to-air systems would be a pretty big step.

San Diego-based General Atomics has been conducting a series of functional flight tests of the radar system in the California desert. The most recent tests verified the radar's functionality aboard the MQ-9 Predator B, also known as the Reaper, while gauging integration of the sensor with TCAS II systems via "resolution advisories. The advisories are the collision avoidance system used on most commercial aircraft.

General Atomics said the test flight demonstrated automatic collision avoidance maneuvers executed by the Predator B that verified system functionality while validating "hardware-in-the-loop simulations."

The drone maker initiated the Due Regard Radar test program in 2011 to help define standards for flying unmanned aircraft like the Predator in U.S. airspace. The tests are being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency and NASA.

The lethal drones have been widely used to go after suspected terrorist cells in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. General Atomics is attempting to expand the market for Predator drones to domestic applications like boarder surveillance.

The drone maker said this week it conducted flight tests throughout December 2014 at its test range and at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Predator B flew "scripted encounters against small- and medium-sized manned aircraft." The pre-production radar tracked targets and searched for wide area scanning for other aircraft.

General Atomics also announced this week that a MQ-1 drone designated Predator XP remained aloft for more than 40 hours during a test flight in Arizona between Feb. 6-8. The extended range Predator flew at an altitude of 10,000 feet during the marathon flight, the company said.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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