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RQ-1 Predator A® Hellfire Missile Tests "Totally Successful"

San Diego, California -- (GA-ASI) February 26, 2001 --.General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft surveillance systems, is pleased to announce the re-release of the following article published and written by Ms. Sue Baker, Aeronautical Systems Center, Public Affairs, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (Ohio), USAF: Aerospace history was made Feb. 21 with the successful launch of a live missile from an unmanned aerial vehicle. The Air Force’s Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program is evolving from a non-lethal, reconnaissance asset, to an armed, highly accurate tank-killer, according to senior program officials from Air Combat Command (ACC) at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) here.

Aerospace history was made Feb. 21 with the successful launch of a live missile from a Predator A, an unmanned aerial vehicle. Photo General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

Photo © General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

"Capping a three-part series of demonstration flight tests on Feb. 21, Predator successfully aimed and launched a ‘live’ Hellfire-C, laser-guided missile that struck an unmanned, stationary Army tank on the ground at Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Airfield near Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.," said Major Ray Pry, Predator program manager, Big Safari Program Office at ASC’s Reconnaissance Aircraft System Program Office (SPO).

"Flown by two ACC crew-members, a pilot and sensor-operator from the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group at Nellis, who were located in a nearby Ground Control Station (GCS), Predator launched the missile using Line-of-Sight (LOS) communication, inflicting heavy damage to the tank," Major Pry said. The final flight, part of a Phase I feasibility demonstration that began in August 2000, was preceded by two similar, completely successful Hellfire launches on Feb. 16 and earlier on Feb. 21, according to the major.

"This first recorded missile launch from a UAV took place on Feb. 16 at approximately 11:05 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT)," he said. "Equipped with a single, inert Hellfire-C missile, the Predator, using its LOS communication band and infrared ‘Kosovo’ laser-ball, aimed and struck the tank-turret about six inches to the right of dead-center, spinning the turret around about 30 degrees. It made a big, gray dent in the turret — just beautiful."

Following the first launch, the Predator/Hellfire launch team reviewed telemetry data and camera footage captured by the GCS crew and a helicopter from the Nellis Range, Major Pry said.

"We wanted to be sure that we had captured what we thought we had seen — that the stress and loads were within Predator’s limits, and that the guides worked perfectly," he explained. "With two shots planned for Feb. 21 using both satellite and LOS communications links, we wanted to ensure we could use the satellite link to fire the missile."

Assembling at 4:30 a.m. local Nellis time, the team flew the Predator for 10 to 15 practice runs, doing simulated set-ups and launches of the missile, Major Pry said. "At approximately 9:30 a.m., the conditions were favorable for a live run, and the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group operators were ready. We executed the launch using the satellite link for the first mission. This successful launch met a key goal of the first phase of the demonstration. "We came in on final approach, about seven kilometers from the tank, turned the laser off just shy of five kilometers, launched the inert Hellfire," Major Pry said. "About seventeen seconds later, the missile impacted the side of the tank, hit the turret dead-square in the middle, and spun it partially around."

We inspected the damage to the turret and reset all parameters to use the LOS communications link for the live missile shot next," Major Pry explained. "After a whole series of run-ins, to make sure the entire team was ‘in sync,’ we went through another pass with the same exact mission profile as the previous launch, and loosed the live Hellfire. The missile exploded as planned against the side of the tank."

Now that the initial weaponization feasibility tests have been successfully completed, ACC Commander Gen. John Jumper will review the results to determine when Phase II of the effort will begin, according to Lt. Col. Tom Carlson, director of ACC’s Advanced Weapons Requirements Branch.

"Phase II will take the Predator/Hellfire combination to more realistic, operational altitudes and conditions, including the challenge of a moving target," Colonel Carlson explained. "This will complete the demonstration of the objectives we set down at the beginning of this process, to demo the technology, and prove its operational feasibility." There are still some challenges ahead, the colonel said. "We need to do some re-engineering on the missile, to take it up to higher altitudes. Once we’re given the ‘green light’ to proceed to Phase II -- and all indications are that we will - it will require another symphony of players, brought together by Major Pry and his team, to execute the second round of demonstration flights.

"The bottom line is that we are taking a Hellfire missile, normally launched from an Army helicopter with its landing-skids ‘in the trees’, or from the deck of a sea-borne Navy carrier, flying under 2,000 feet, and asking it to fly at higher altitudes," Colonel Carlson said. "The recent Predator launches were done within the normal operating elevations for Hellfire."

The UAV was equipped with "hard points" by General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems International (GA-ASI), the prime contractor in San Diego, Calif., according to Major Pry. "We knew we needed to reinforce the structural, weight-bearing capabilities of Predator, by adding composites to its forward and rear spars, plus some aluminum for attaching the hard points.

"Key to the success of this Predator/Hellfire demonstration was support from the Aviation, Rockets and Missiles program office at Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama," Major Pry added. In addition to the prime contractor GA-ASI, Predator’s additional contractor team-members include Raytheon in McKinney, Texas, and L3 Communications in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).