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9 Dec, 2021 14:31

‘Runway independent’ military drone unveiled

General Atomics has presented its new drone designed to take off and land on a minimally-prepared surface in as little as 400 feet. It can potentially fly missions unmodified from an aircraft carrier, Defense News media reported.
‘Runway independent’ military drone unveiled

The new drone, named ‘Mojave’ after the deadly US desert, was unveiled this week by manufacturer executives, including David Alexander, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI).

Its body design is largely derived from the firm’s earlier product, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, but features a different tail section, a new wing, and landing gear. The drone is powered by a Rolls Royce M250 450-horsepower turboprop engine, compared to a 165-horsepower engine of the Gray Eagle. The new wing is optimized for maximum lift, while the tricycle landing gear features wider tires and other adaptations to deal with rough terrain.

The main goal of the development was to make the drone virtually “runway independent,” Alexander told journalists as cited by the media. A “dirt road” is good enough for highly automated take-off and landing procedures and a stretch as short as 400 feet (122 meters) is needed, depending on payload.

GA-ASI says the Mojave in its current form can fly reconnaissance missions from a flat desk aircraft carrier and doesn’t require catapults or arresting gear. A single prototype of the aircraft currently exists, with the company currently testing how slow it can fly without stalling in various conditions.

Airstrip requirements would be higher in other scenarios, in which weapons, additional equipment or extra fuel for an increased endurance of up to 25 hours is needed. According to company data, the drone carrying 12 Hellfire missiles would have to be deployed from a 1,000 feet (304 meter) runway, or a longer one with fuel for a maximum-length 10-hour flight.

The Mojave’s maximum useful payload is specified at 3,600lb (1,633kg), enough to carry up to 16 Hellfires. It has six underwing hardpoints and a centerline hardpoint and is compatible with pods developed for the larger GA-ASI MQ-9 Reaper drone and its derivatives.

With its short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities, the product is meant for use in “expeditionary” missions where minimal ground infrastructure exists. The equipment required to launch the Mojave can be carried by a single UH-60 helicopter, the company said.

GA-ASI sees special operations forces as its target customer. Alexander specifically mentioned the US Air Force Special Operations Command’s Armed Overwatch program, saying he hoped defense officials would consider the new unmanned platform.

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