General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is carrying out ground tests of its newly built Certifiable Predator B unmanned air vehicle, ahead of a flight campaign at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground throughout 2017 and 2018.

Aircraft integration finished on 29 August, with the first completed system then moved to the company’s Gray Butte flight operations facility in California.

There it is undergoing six weeks of ground tests and one week of taxi trials, General Atomics tells FlightGlobal, to be followed by a further seven-day inspection by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Flight tests will follow at the same site, before it moves to Yuma in Arizona for further development trials, including payload and endurance tests.

The Certifiable Predator B design is derived from the company’s MQ-9 Reaper UAV, but has been developed to be able to fly in national airspace, something that systems of its size cannot currently do.

The Royal Air Force has selected the B variant to fulfil its future Protector requirement, with “at least 20” expected to be introduced in the 2020 timeframe, although a contract has not yet been signed.

General Atomics says flight testing will continue through 2017 and 2018, ahead of building a production-conforming aircraft in late 2018, which will be used for the final certification tests.


General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

Two prototypes will support the current development phase, it adds, with two additional airframes used for fatigue and static testing.

“The certification process takes at least two to three years and will only come after a European customer takes delivery and completes the certification process through a European government agency,” the company says.

While the system is being pitched to a variety of prospective buyers, General Atomics acknowledges that its selection by the UK has led it to focus on “the certification requirements for that market”.

In addition, once the initial approval is obtained, it should make any future approval process easier as “it is typically much simpler for each subsequent customer to accept most, if not all, of the certification data which has already been completed”.

There is a continued dialogue with the US Air Force, which operates the MQ-9, over the potential for the new variant, it says. There are also ongoing discussions with the FAA, but General Atomics notes that guidelines for operating UAVs in US national airspace have not yet been fully defined.