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A new, reduced-signature, unmanned aircraft—the long-rumored, 20-hr.-endurance, pure-jet Predator C Avenger—has emerged from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ workshops after a 3½-year gestation period paced by massive growth in UAV production and the use of unmanned designs in combat.
The UAV’s undeniably stealthed-up exterior offers several clues about how the aircraft could be employed.
A weapons bay allows internal carriage of 500-lb. bombs with GBU-38 JDAM tail kit and laser guidance. Given the aircraft’s 41-ft. length (which will expand by at least 2 ft. in the second test aircraft), the weapons bay appears to be 10 ft. long.
The weapons bay doors can be removed to allow installation of a semi-submerged, wide-area surveillance pod, says Tom Cassidy, president, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ Aircraft Systems Group. Cassidy has earned a unique reputation by using company funds to develop what he believes the military needs rather than chasing Pentagon requirements that shift with disheartening regularity to produce cost increases and production delays. The result is a family of Gnat and Predator designs that are used by all the services and intelligence agencies.
The Predator C, like the B-variants, is designed to carry about 3,000 lb. of weapons and sensors. In a non-stealthy environment, weapons could also be attached externally on the fuselage and wings. For an additional 2 hr. of flying time, fuel tanks can be installed in the weapons bay. Normal fuel storage is split 50/50 between the wings and fuselage.