Press Release

California Firm Selected to Develop Aircraft Technologies

By SpaceRef Editor
January 24, 2000
Filed under

Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington, DC
January 24, 2000
(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Alan Brown
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
(Phone: 661/258-2665)

RELEASE: 00-11


In an effort to increase the research capabilities of high-
altitude Earth science missions, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research
Center, Edwards, CA, has selected General Atomics Aeronautical
Systems, Inc., (GA-ASI) San Diego, CA, to begin negotiations to
demonstrate technologies expanding the capabilities of uninhabited
aerial vehicles.

The task under NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and
Sensor Technology (ERAST) program jointly sponsored research
agreement is to expand technical performance to meet the
scientific requirements and to demonstrate operational
capabilities required by the emerging uninhabited aerial vehicle
(UAV) industry. GA-ASI will develop the new Predator B series of
UAV, including an enlarged and upgraded version, to meet these
requirements. As joint partners in the project, GA-ASI will
contribute $8 million and NASA’s Office of Aero-Space Technology
will invest more than $10 million.

The ERAST program has operated for approximately six years
with a number of industry partners to develop UAV capabilities.
The program has concentrated on developing aerodynamic propulsion
and control system technologies for future high-altitude, long-
endurance UAVs designed for government or commercial uses.

GA-ASI was selected from a field of three member firms of the
ERAST Alliance submitting proposals in response to a research
announcement. The other firms included Aurora Flight Sciences of
Manassas, VA and Fairmont, W. Va., and Scaled Composites of
Mojave, CA.

“Each of the competing company teams had very strong
technical proposals, though with very different approaches,” said
Dwain Deets, director of aeronautics research and technology
programs at Dryden. “The quality of these proposals is evidence
of the success of the ERAST Alliance as a mechanism for mutual
support and technical interchange.”

UAV capabilities have grown tremendously under the ERAST
program and all the competitors have demonstrated capabilities to
meet the growing UAV market from both government and industry.
The specific scientific needs now being pursued represent a set of
requirements that significantly expands the demonstrated
performance levels. The required investment in new vehicle
platforms drove the decision to down select to a single company.

GA-ASI’s proposal was selected as being best suited to meet a
stringent set of requirements established by NASA’s Office of
Earth Science for the conventionally powered, remotely or
autonomously operated aircraft. Among these requirements was a
mission endurance of 24 to 48 hours at a primary altitude range of
40,000 to 65,000 feet with a payload of at least 300 kg (660

The selected aircraft will serve as a testbed to demonstrate
technologies required by the UAV industry to support a broad range
of potential science, government and commercial missions. A key
requirement is to develop capabilities and operational procedures
to allow operations from conventional airports without conflict
with piloted aircraft. In addition, the program will have to
demonstrate “over-the-horizon” command and control beyond line-of-
sight radio capability via a satellite link, “see-and-avoid”
operation in unrestricted airspace and be able to communicate with
Federal Aviation Administration controllers.

To meet those requirements, GA-ASI proposed development of an
“enhanced” Predator B, a 7,000-lb. gross weight aircraft capable
of carrying a 700 lb. payload at altitudes of 40,000 to 52,000
feet for up to 32 hours. The aircraft is an enlarged, turboprop-
powered version of the Predator surveillance UAV now operated by
the U.S. Air Force.

GA-ASI plans to use three versions of the Predator B in the
development program. The first aircraft, currently in
development, will be the turboprop-powered baseline Predator B
design. This version will be capable of operation in the 40,000
to 50,000-ft. altitude range for up to 25 hours.

A second aircraft, modified with a Williams FJ44-2A turbofan
engine, will validate an expanded flight envelope and is scheduled
to begin flight testing in 2001. This jet version is expected to
have a flight endurance of more than 12 hours in the 50,000 to
60,000-ft. altitude range.

A third flight-test Predator B, powered by the Allied Signal
TPE-331-10T turboprop engine, will perform flight tests of
advanced subsystems beginning in 2002. These systems would
include over-the-horizon satellite communication-based command and
control, a redundant flight control system to improve operational
reliability, “see and avoid” capability, and voice relay so air
traffic controllers can communicate directly with the ground-based
pilot at extreme ranges.

SpaceRef staff editor.