General Atomics has demonstrated the ability of the Predator unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to communicate directly to air traffic control centres over a voice-radio relay link through a digital line of sight datalink. The trial is part of an effort to enable UAVs to fly in airspace used by other aircraft under air traffic control, obviating the need for an attendant chase plane.

Using a standard VHF/UHF radio, an operator in a ground control station communicated directly with air traffic controllers just as a pilot would in a manned aircraft. Communications at ranges of up to 225km (124nm) were achieved. Additional flights slated for this year are intended to increase the range to 370km.

Demonstrations funded by the US military aim to test several other upgrades to the medium-range UAV. General Atomics will also adapt the Predator to work with the Lockheed Sanders Air Force Mission Support System, a computer-based mission planner designed to assist operators to conduct pre-mission planning and post-mission debriefings. The firm is also undertaking reliability and maintainability improvements to the Predator. A contract option would allow the Predator to operate with the Sierra Nevada UAV common automated recovery system.

General Atomics has also modified a US Navy Pelican piloted target drone aircraft (which can be flown by a pilot or a ground operator)into an unmanned air vehicle. The heavily modified Cessna 337 Skymaster has been fitted with UAV avionics to enable it to fly manned or unmanned missions.

Plans to improve the Pelican include fitting an electro-optical sensor payload, allowing it to act as a true surveillance drone.

Source: Flight International