The US Air Force’s next-generation multispectral camera, the UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS) MS-177, has been successfully flown on the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems "Predator C" Avenger aircraft.
The semi-stealthy, unmanned hunter-killer aircraft has been under development by General Atomics in Poway, California since 2009 and the air branch is the only acknowledged customer.
Even though the Avenger hasn’t attracted significant sales interest, the armed, low-observable aircraft forms the basis of General Atomics Sea Avenger proposal for the US Navy's MQ-XX Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) programme.
Chris Pehrson, the company’s senior director of strategic development, tells Flightglobal that the MS-177 demonstration involved seven flights, performed in January and February. He says it was a one-off demonstration and Avenger probably won’t become the host platform for the MS-177, since the air force has no programme of record – or designation – for the aircraft.
The USAF does, however, plan to integrate the MS-177 with Northrop Grumman’s high-altitude RQ-4B Block 30 Global Hawk, which flies 10,00ft higher than the Avenger.
Imagery from the sensor is classified and photos of the flight have not yet been approved by the air force, but Pehrson confirmed the demonstration went "very well".
"They used it to look at some land and maritime objects," he says. "The integration and the flight demo and datalink software worked as expected. They’re very happy with the results."
The sensor can pivot 20° to achieve a wider field of view. The Avenger is the only aircraft known to have flown with it since a Northrop E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) demonstration in 2011. The RQ-4 is destined to become the first aircraft to carry it operationally, barring any classified deployments.
A spokesman for the air force’s Big Safari office at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio confirmed in an email that there are no future plans, or aircraft designation, for the Avenger demonstrator.
"In accordance with the 2011 defense appropriation act, the air force procured prototype demonstration capabilities of the Avenger system," the air force says. “The demonstration has completed and there are no current plans for future demonstrations."
The air force confirmed that the MS-177 will now be provided to Northrop Grumman Global Hawk programme as government furnished equipment in January 2017 for testing.
An RQ-4 modified with Northrop's “universal payload adaptor” demonstration functionality with the current-generation SYER-2C earlier this year as part of the government’s ongoing “sensor re-host” effort. The company plans to test compatibility with the U-2’s Optical Bar Camera next before moving onto the MS-177.