UAS & Robotics
New Reaper variant stays aloft longer
- By Mark Pomerleau
- Sep 18, 2015
The Air Force and General Atomics have successfully fielded an new configuration of the MQ-9 Reaper that extends the endurance of the remotely piloted aircraft.
For the Reaper Extended Range, or Reaper ER, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. mounted an extra fuel tank to each wing that significantly extend its endurance, the contractor said in a release. The MQ-9’s current maximum endurance is 27 hours with a range of 1,150 miles. With the ER configuration, its endurance will reportedly be from 33 to about 40 hours.
General Atomics said that the Reaper ER program was a quick reaction requirement to support the Air Force. The company was challenged by the Air Force to deliver 38 Reaper ERs within 13 months, with operational capabilities in 18 months. A requirement that the extra fueld tanks be capable of being retrofitted to the aircraft in the field was included in the design as to allow fuel tanks and other equipment to be installed quickly on current Reapers in the Air Force’s fleet of 104 Reapers.
“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 of Aircraft Systems for the company. “We are pleased that the Reaper ER program has met the expectations of our Air Force customer and satisfied the enormous challenge of their Quick Reaction Capability schedule requirement.”
In terms of the new endurance capability of the Reaper ER, Kimberly Kasitz, public relations manager with General Atomics told Defense Systems that the Air Force no longer permits General Atomics to release information regarding its capability.
In its release, General Atomics did not say what the ER’s endurance would be, but IHS Janes has reported that the additional non-drop fuel tanks will provide an endurance of upwards of 40 hours. This differs slightly from estimates made by sUAS News, which reported that the extra tanks would extend the Reaper’s endurance to 33-35 hours, and that General Atomics was working on an option that would take its endurance to 42 hours for ISR-only purposes by replacing the aircraft’s fuel-carrying 66-foot wings with 79-foot wings.
Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.