General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) aircraft systems group president Thomas Cassidy has confirmed that the company is currently fitting out its first Predator 'C' next generation long endurance UAV, but with first flights now not occurring until next year.

Speaking with Flight Unmanned at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte flight operations facility in Southern California, Cassidy said “the first one is built but we haven’t flown it yet. We are doing integration right.”

The aircraft has received its jet power plant – “it has an engine on it” says Cassidy  and “it will fly in 2007”.  Landing gear has also been fitted.

The aircraft avionics suite is derived from the MQ-9 Predator B Reaper advanced medium-endurance UAV, however the airframe represents a shift from existing Predator family lines. While not commented directly upon by Cassidy, Flight Unmanned understands that the C type features a different wing form, optimised for higher altitudes, and improved low observability features through fuselage shaping.

Lessons from the original jet powered Predator B UAV, later set aside in favour of the MQ-9 turbo-prop configuration at the request of the US Air Force, have also influenced planning for the ‘C’ type.

GA-ASI first confirmed the existence of its self-funded C development programme midway through 2005. Cassidy says that the existing production effort for Predator A, B and Warrior continues to influence the time available for C model development: “We are doing it on our own money and our own time so that it is not a problem”.

While having played a major role in UAV weaponisation, Cassidy is also continuing to rule out any potential moves by GA-ASI to explore a role in the UCAV market segment. He says UCAV development is a “different priority” which lies outside the company’s core interests.