General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) used its second full-scale MQ-9B unmanned aircraft to conduct successful lightning tests at its facility in Poway, California last month.
The test was conducted jointly between engineers from GA-ASI and NTS Pittsfield, a recognized leader in the development of sophisticated lightning protection systems for the aerospace industry. MQ-9B is GA-ASI’s latest evolution of GA-ASI’s multi-mission Predator B fleet of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). The same lightning protection technology will be used by GA-ASI for its proposed MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling tanker for the U.S. Navy.
“One of the important design goals for MQ-9B is to deliver a RPA that can be certified to fly in national airspace,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “The successful completion of these lightning tests is an extremely important step towards achieving airworthiness certification in segregated airspace.”
A scaled lightning current was injected onto the aircraft structure, simulating a direct lightning strike. The current flowed along the aircraft structure and exited from a predetermined return location. Results from this test verified the effectiveness of the lightning protection design for the MQ-9B. This full-scale test was important to confirm the interactions between the airframe structure, integrated equipment, and cabling configuration since all of these factor into the lightning protection design of the aircraft.
GA-ASI named its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian and the maritime surveillance variant is called SeaGuardian. MQ-9B is a certifiable (STANAG 4671) version of the company’s MQ-9 Predator B product line. Its development is the result of a five-year company-funded effort to deliver a RPA that can meet the stringent airworthiness certification requirements of various military and civil authorities, including the UK Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the U.S. FAA.
A weaponized variant of the system is being acquired by the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) under the PROTECTOR RG Mk 1 program.