General Atomics Aeronautical Systems flew its jet-powered Predator C unmanned aircraft system for the first time in early April, chief executive Thomas Cassidy has told Flight International.

The next-generation surveillance and attack UAS completed the first flight with "absolutely no problems", Cassidy says. "It was ready to go again right after it landed."

Cassidy declines to reveal details about the secretive aircraft's features or performance. Since 2005, General Atomics has been internally developing the Predator C in anticipation of a US Air Force requirement for a next-generation UAS, but federal funding is likely to appear shortly.

Brian Bilbray, a California congressman, has asked to insert $26 million in an unnamed appropriations bill for the Predator C, citing personal interest from Gen David McKiernan, commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan.

"Predator C will provide the USAF and other customers with an additional covert capability, enhanced by much higher operational and transit speeds for quick response and quick repositioning for improved mission flexibility and survivability," Bilbray says.

It is understood that Duncan Hunter, another California congressman, also plans to submit a similar request for government funding for the Predator C.

Cassidy says the first flight, originally scheduled for the third quarter of last year, was delayed by several months due to technical and regulatory issues. In 2006, he described the Predator C as having a new wing-form and stealthy features.

The programme is moving forward even as the US Department of Defense plans to buy at least 66 MQ-9 Reapers (Predator Bs) over the next two years, as it seeks to establish 50 permanent orbits of Predator- and Reaper-class UAS.

Source: Flight International