General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) officially transitioned its production line from the MQ-1C Gray Eagle to its new long-range variant, the MQ-1C ER Gray Eagle Extended Range following the completion of the last contracted MQ-1C aircraft.
GA-ASI’s investment in airframe composite tooling enabled the company to start manufacturing the MQ-1C ER ahead of schedule, with its production running in parallel with the MQ-1C line.
The maiden flight of the production variant of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER was carried out on 29 October 2016.
The first four MQ-1C ER aircraft are now being used for developmental testing that will lead to follow-on operational test and evaluation in spring 2018. Customer deliveries of MQ-1C ER will begin in summer 2018.
Although the ER version will become the baseline configuration for the type, the upgrade is not yet available as a retrofit for in-service Gray Eagles.
The MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS has been fielded to 12 U.S. Army operational units and has accumulated more than 290,000 flight hours. The MQ-1C is the Army’s most active kinetic platform in theater.
“We are proud of our many years of effort to complete the factory build of 165 MQ-1C Gray Eagles for the U.S. Army,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “We’re now focused on delivering the Gray Eagle ER and believe its endurance and other improved capabilities will be a game changer on the battlefield.”
In addition to improved reliability and maintainability, MQ-1C ER brings considerable improvement in endurance and payload capabilities. As part of a recent endurance test flight, an MQ-1C ER aircraft flew for 41.9 consecutive hours, a significant increase over the 25-hour capability of the current Gray Eagle UAS.