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US Army’s Gray Eagle modernisation effort grows with focus on reliability

The US Army’s effort to modernise its MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV fleet has grown to encompass almost all of the aircraft’s systems with a special focused given to building in redundancy and improving reliability.

The expanded reassessment of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ Gray Eagle drone is a result of a reduced tempo of operations, said Dennis Sparks, chief of the technical management division in the US Army’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, during a presentation at AHS International's 74th Annual Forum & Technology Display conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

“What you are seeing now is we are transitioning out of the higher op tempo overseas into more of a rebuilding phase. We are more comprehensively looking at that [system],” he said. “We are in the process of modernising pretty much every element of that system.”

Special attention is being paid to improving Gray Eagle’s redundancies, said Sparks.

“Because these systems were unmanned to begin with in a lot of cases what we are finding is there wasn’t a lot thought given to redundancy management, sensor management, signal management – stuff that on the manned aviation side we pretty much take for granted in our applications,” he said. “What we find is that sometimes that hurts us from a mission capability standpoint. We lose aircraft because of that.”

The US Army has also invested heavily in improving the Gray Eagle’s engine – a problem area for the aircraft, according Sparks.

The Gray Eagle's engine is a Thielert Centurion diesel based on a Mercedes Benz automotive engine. When Thielert was bought after financial troubles in 2013 by Aviation Industry Corporation of China, GA-ASI bought the rights to produce the engine itself.

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