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25 May 17. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA ASI) today announced that its new MQ-9B SkyGuardianTM Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) system, a “Certifiable” (STANAG 4671) version of its Predator® B product line, has set a company record with the longest endurance flight of any Predator-series aircraft. Configured in an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) “clean wing” mode, the company-owned MQ-9B aircraft took off May 16th from Laguna Airfield at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., with 6,065 pounds of internal fuel. The aircraft flew between 25,000 and 35,000 feet for the duration of the mission and landed 48.2 hours later on May 18th with 280 pounds of reserve fuel. The company’s previous endurance record was held by Predator XP, which flew 46.1 hours in February 2015.
“This long-endurance flight is not only a significant achievement for our MQ-9B SkyGuardian aircraft but also a very timely landmark event for our company as we celebrate 25 years of aviation innovation this year,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “GA-ASI continues to push the envelope with versatile, reliable, cost-effective, and combat-proven RPA systems and sensors, and this latest feat is a testament to our industry legacy.”
Development of MQ-9B began in 2012 as an internally-funded effort. The endurance flight is the continuation of an exceptionally, efficient test program that began with the successful first flight last November. GA-ASI is currently building three company-owned aircraft and plans to deliver the first production aircraft next year. The SkyGuardian version of the “Certifiable” Predator B has been designed to operate under the stringent airworthiness requirements of non-military airspace. The weaponized variant of the system is being acquired by the Royal Air Force under the Protector program. A maritime patrol variant, SeaGuardianTM, is designed to support open-ocean and littoral surface surveillance. All three variants are designed to fly in excess of 35 hours with airspeeds up to 210 knots and reach altitudes of more than 40,000 feet.
25 May 17. U.S. deploys Global Hawk aircraft to Tokyo area for 1st time. The U.S. Air Force is deploying the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft to the Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo for the first time to strengthen surveillance against North Korea and China.
Lt. Col. Jeremy Fields, commander of the Global Hawk fleet, explained to reporters on May 24 that the base’s proximity to central Tokyo would make it easier to submit flight plans to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. He did not specify the targets of surveillance, saying only that the U.S. Air Force was involved in various duties in the Pacific, such as dealing with terrorists and pirates as well as providing humanitarian support. However, it is clear the aircraft will be used to provide support to the air and maritime surveillance currently being conducted against North Korea, which has made repeated ballistic missile launches and is also pushing development of nuclear weapons.
The aircraft can reach an altitude of about 15,000 meters and remain in the air for about 36 hours. Five Global Hawks will be deployed to the Yokota Air Base from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, where the aircraft are normally based. Four of them have already reached Yokota, and 110 personnel have been transferred from Guam. The deployment will be temporary, between May and the end of October, while repairs are made to the runway of the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture at the northern tip of Honshu island. Since 2014, a number of Global Hawk aircraft based in Guam have been deployed to the Misawa Air Base during the summer, when bad weather, such as typhoons, can adversely affect flight plans.
However, the runway repairs at Misawa between May and July le