The Fifth Generation Aerial Target (5GAT ) will take its first flight later this month at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, following completion of ground-based testing in September.
After a multi-month delay due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, 5GAT finished a battery of ground test events at Michael Army Airfield on September 18. Executed by an integrated team of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) personnel and contractors, the testing verified complete aircraft control, safety procedures and key performance milestones for takeoff and landing.
The single prototype executed 24 taxi test events (15 low-speed and nine high-speed) in just six days, with no interruptions or major problems.
Initial flight test objectives include demonstrating 5GAT flight characteristics, various subsystems’ performance and the aircraft’s auto-takeoff and auto-landing functionality. Subsequent flight tests will progressively expand the aircraft’s flight envelope in altitude, speed and greater G-force loading.
The 5GAT is a high-performance, unmanned, low-observable fighter-size aircraft that will be used for air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons evaluation, pilot training, and ground forces training when translated into production as the Next Generation Aerial Target (NGAT).
The 5GAT drone represents the fifth-generation fighter aircraft threats U.S. forces could face and enable the development of tactics, techniques and procedures against a fifth-generation threat. The demonstrator incorporates two General Electric J85 afterburning jet engines, taken from retired Northrop T-38 Talon trainer jets, into a 95% carbon fiber airframe.
On 24 March 2017, Sierra Technical Services (STS) was awarded a prime contract to design, manufacture, assemble, integrate and ground/flight test the 5GAT Demonstrator. A follow-on contract option to build a second demonstrator was awarded in 2019.
The 5GAT contract is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Contracting Office (USACE) located in Sacramento, CA and is managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (OSD/DOT&E). STS has been the prime contractor developing the 5GAT aircraft concept since 2006, and uses two major subcontractors: Fast and Optimal Engineering (FOE) of Valencia, CA, and 5-D Systems of Round Rock, TX.
The detail design, manufacturing and subsystems integration for the 5GAT aircraft is being conducted at STS’ Tehachapi, California facilities.
STS has taken an innovative approach to building 5GAT, constructing the airframe from composites using soft tooling to reduce cost. The subcontractor, Fast Optimal Engineering, designed major subsystem solutions, including flight control actuation, electrical power, hydraulics, landing gear and steering. The subcontractor, 5D Systems, was responsible for developing the unmanned 5GAT’s complex suite of software. 5GAT utilizes engines and other elements harvested from decommissioned DOD military aircraft, as well as an existing U.S. Army ground-based aircraft control system.