MQ-9 Reaper

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MQ-9 Reaper
MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan.
Role Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle
Manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
First flight 2 February 2001
Primary users United States Air Force
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Royal Air Force
Aeronautica Militare [1]
Number built 28[2]
Unit cost ~ $15M
Developed from MQ-1 Predator

The MQ-9 Reaper (originally the Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) for use by the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and the British Royal Air Force. The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.[3]

The MQ-9 is a larger and more capable aircraft than the earlier MQ-1 Predator. It can use MQ-1's ground systems. The MQ-9 has a 950-shaft-horsepower turboprop engine, far more powerful than the Predator's 119 hp (89 kW) piston engine. The increase in power allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance and cruise at three times the speed of the MQ-1.[3]

In 2008 the New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing began to transition from F-16 piloted planes to MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight, becoming the first all-robot attack squadron.[4][5][6]

Retired U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley said, "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper."[3]

As of 2009 the Air Force’s fleet stands at 195 Predators and 28 Reapers.[2]


[edit] Design and development

With the success of the MQ-1 in combat, General Atomics anticipated the Air Force's desire for an upgraded aircraft and, using its own funds, set about redesigning Predator.

[edit] Prototype "Predator B"

General Atomics began development of the Reaper with the "Predator B-001", a proof-of-concept aircraft, which first flew on 2 February 2001. The B-001 was powered by a Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-10T turboprop engine with 950 shp (712 kW). It had a standard Predator airframe, except that the wings were stretched from 48 feet (14.6 m) to 66 feet (20 m). The B-001 had a speed of 220 kts (390 km/h) and could carry a payload of 750 pounds (340 kilograms) to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15.2 kilometers) with an endurance of 30 hours.[7]

GA refined the design, taking it in two separate directions. The first was with a jet-powered version. The "Predator B-002" was fitted with a Williams FJ44-2A turbofan engine with 10.2 kN (2,300 lbf, 1,040 kgf) thrust. It had payload capacity of 475 pounds (215 kilograms), a ceiling of 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) and endurance of 12 hours. The U.S. Air Force has ordered two airframes for evaluation, delivered in 2007.[8]

The second was the "Predator B-003", referred to by GA as the "Altair", which has a new airframe with an 84-feet (25.6 m) wingspan and a takeoff weight of about 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms). Like the Predator B-001, it is powered by a TP-331-10T turboprop. This variant has a payload capacity of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms), a maximum ceiling of 52,000 feet (15.8 kilometers), and an endurance of 36 hours.[9][10]

[edit] Air Force version

First MQ-9 arrives at Creech AFB, March 2007.

In October 2001, the US Air Force signed a contract with GA to purchase an initial pair of Predator B-003s for evaluation, with follow-up orders for production machines. The first test MQ-9s were delivered to the Air Force in 2002. The name "Altair" did not follow the aircraft into testing, with the Air Force continuing to refer to the system as "Predator B" until it was renamed Reaper ("Altair" instead became the designation for the unarmed NASA version); this is confusing, however, as the manufacturer uses the term to refer to the smaller B-001 prototype.[7]

The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons. The inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kilograms) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (90 kilograms) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pound (450 kilogram) external fuel tanks and a thousand pounds of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours.[10] The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions.[3] The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM ( Joint Direct Attack Munition). Tests are underway to allow for the addition of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile . Air Force believes that the Predator B will give the service an improved "deadly persistence" capability, with the UAV flying over a combat area night and day waiting for a target to present itself. In this role an armed UAV neatly complements piloted strike aircraft. A piloted strike aircraft can be used to drop larger quantities of ordnance on a target while a cheaper UAV can be kept in operation almost continuously, with ground controllers working in shifts, carrying a lighter ordnance load to destroy targets.[10]

By October, 2007 the U.S. Air Force owned nine Reapers,[11] and was expected to decide whether to order full-rate production in 2009.[3] The U.S. Navy ordered its first MQ-9s in December, 2005. In September, 2005 the United States Department of Homeland Security ordered one for border protection operations, ordered a second aircraft in early 2006, and ordered two more MQ-9s and related systems in late 2006.

On 18 May 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a certificate of authorization that allows the MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft to fly in U.S. civilian airspace to search for survivors of disasters. Requests had been made in 2005 for the aircraft to be used in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina but, because there was no FAA authorization in place at the time, the planes were not used.[12]

An MQ-9 taking off in Afghanistan.

On 15 July 2007, the Associated Press reported that the MQ-9 would deploy into Iraq somewhere between the fall of that year or the spring of the next. Also mentioned was the building of a 400,000-square-foot (37,000 m2) expansion of the concrete ramp area used for Predator drones at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, presumably for the staging of Reapers.[13]

On 28 October 2007 the Air Force Times reported an MQ-9 had achieved its first "kill", firing a Hellfire missile against "Afghanistan insurgents in the Deh Rawood region of the mountainous Oruzgan province. The strike was 'successful'," the United States Central Command Air Forces said.[14]

Critics have stated that the USAF's insistence on qualified pilots flying UAVs is a bottleneck to expanding their deployment. Air Force Major General William Rew stated on 5 August 2008, "For the way we fly them right now"—fully integrated into air operations and often flying missions alongside manned aircraft—"we want pilots to fly them."[15]

[edit] Navy version

General Atomics designed a naval version of the Reaper, named the "Mariner", for the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program requirements. The design would have an increased fuel capacity in order to have an endurance of up to 49 hours.[16] Proposed variations on the ultimate design included one designed for carrier operations with folding wings for carrier storage, shorter and more rugged landing gear, an arresting hook, cut-down or eliminated ventral flight surfaces and six stores pylons with a total load of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms).[10] The Northrop Grumman RQ-4N was announced the BAMS winner.

The US Customs and Border Protection has ordered a "Maritime Variant" of the MQ-9.[17]

[edit] NASA version

NASA version Altair
NASA version Ikhana

NASA had initially expressed some interest in a production version of the B-002 turbofan-powered variant,[10] but instead has leased an unarmed version of the Reaper, which carries the GA-ASI company name "Altair". Altair is one of the first 3 "Predator-B" airframes. The other 2 airframes, known as "Predator-B 001" and "Predator-B 002", had a maximum gross weight of 7,500 pounds. Altair differs from these models in that it has an 86-foot (26 m) long wingspan (20 feet greater than early and current MQ-9's). The Altair has enhanced avionics systems to better enable it to to fly in FAA-controlled civil airspace and demonstrate "over-the-horizon" command and control capability from a ground station. These aircraft are used by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise as part of the NASA ERAST Program to perform on-location science missions.[18]

In November 2006, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center obtained an MQ-9 from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.. The aircraft has been named Ikhana and its main goal is the Suborbital Science Program within the Science Mission Directorate. NASA also acquired a ground control station in a mobile trailer.[19] This aircraft was used extensively to survey the Southern California wildfires in 2007. The data was used to deploy firefighters to areas of the highest need.

[edit] Homeland Security version

An MQ-9 of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
UAV Operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, April 20, 2005.

The United States Department of Homeland Security initially ordered one Predator B for border patrol duty, referred to as MQ-9 CBP-101. It began operations 4 October 2005, but on 25 April 2006, this aircraft crashed in the Arizona desert. The NTSB determined (Record Identification: CHI06MA121[20]) that the cause of the crash was most likely a pilot error by the aircraft's ground-based pilot in the use of a checklist. During its operational period, the aircraft flew 959 hours on patrol and had a part in 2,309 arrests. It also contributed to the seizure of four vehicles and 8,267 pounds of marijuana.[21] Because of these successes, a second Predator B, called "CBP-104" (initially referred to as "CBP-102"), was delivered in September 2006, and commenced limited border protection operations on 18 October 2006.

The CBP-101 was equipped with the Lynx SAR, AX-15 payload, ARC-210 radios, and other sensors and communications equipment; CBP-104 was enhanced with Ku band satellite command and control link and MTS-A EO/IR sensors.[21]

The President’s FY 2006 Emergency Supplemental budget request added $45 million for the Predator B program, and the FY 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill adds an additional $20 million. In October 2006, GA-ASI announced a $33.9 million contract to supply two more Predator B systems by Fall 2007.[22]

The US Customs and Border Protection has five operational MQ-9s: one based in North Dakota, four in Arizona. The aircraft are equipped with GA-ASI's Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar and Raytheon's MTS-B ElectroOptical/Infrared sensors.[23]

[edit] International versions

[edit] Australia

In September 2006, the General Atomics Mariner demonstrator aircraft was operated by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in an exercise designed to evaluate the aircraft's ability to aid in efforts to stem illegal fishing, drug running and illegal immigration. The Mariner operated from RAAF bases Edinburgh, South Australia and Learmonth, Western Australia in conjunction with a Royal Australian Navy Armidale class patrol boat, the Joint Offshore Protection Command and the Pilbara Regiment.[24]

[edit] United Kingdom

On 27 September 2006, the U.S. Congress was notified by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency that the United Kingdom was seeking to purchase a pair of MQ-9 Reapers. They are operated by No. 39 Squadron RAF out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.[25] A third MQ-9 is in the process of being purchased by the RAF.[25]

On 9 November 2007, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that its MQ-9 Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban.[26] On 4 January 2008 it became public that the United Kingdom wants to purchase a further 10 MQ-9 Reapers, giving the Royal Air Force a total fleet of 13 Reaper UAVs.[27]

On 22 April 2008, the Ministry of Defence announced that it was forced to destroy one of the Reapers operating in Afghanistan to prevent sensitive material falling into the hands of the Taliban after it crash landed.[28]

[edit] Germany

Germany has made a request to purchase five Reapers and four ground control stations, plus related support material and training. The request, being made through the Foreign Military Sales process, was presented to Congress through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on 1 August 2008 and is valued at US$205 million.[29][30]

[edit] Italy

On August 1, 2008, Italy submitted a FMS request through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency for four aircraft, four ground stations and five years of maintenance support, all valued at US$330 million.[29][31]

[edit] Operational history

  • The California Office of Emergency Services requested NASA support for the Esperanza Fire, and in under 24 hours the General Atomics Altair (NASA variant of the Predator B) was launched on a 16 hour mission to map the perimeter of the fire. The Altair had just returned from a test mission a day before the Esperanza Fire started. The fire mapping research is a joint project with NASA and the US Forest Service.[32][33]
  • On 25 April 2006, an MQ-9 operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection crashed near Nogales, Arizona. The pilot, remotely operating the vehicle from Sierra Vista Municipal Airport, reported a momentary lockup of the displays on the primary control console. The pilot switched control to a secondary console, and in doing so inadvertently shut down the vehicle's engine, causing it to descend out of reach of communications and ultimately crash.[20][34]
  • On 1 May 2007, the 432d Wing of the United States Air Force was activated to operate MQ-9 Reaper as well as MQ-1 Predator UAVs at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The pilots are expected to fly combat mission in Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of 2007.[35]
  • As of October 2007 the USAF is flying operational missions in Afghanistan.[11] As of 6 March 2008, according to USAF Lieutenant General Gary North, the Reaper has attacked 16 targets in Afghanistan using 500-lb bombs and Hellfire missiles. On 4 February 2008 the Reaper dropped a bomb on a truck carrying an insurgent mortar and team near Kandahar.[36]
  • It was reported on August 11, 2008 that the 174th Fighter Wing of the USAF will consist of nothing but Reapers.[39]

[edit] Operators

 United Kingdom
 United States

[edit] Specifications

MQ-9 Reaper taxis.

Several minor variations of the RQ-9/MQ-9 exist; these values are indicative.


  • Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated
  • Crew(remote): 2 (Pilot plus a sensor operator)[43]
  • Landing Type: runway
  • Launch Type: runway
  • Power Plant: Honeywell TP331-10T turboprop engine, 950 SHP (712 kW)
  • Fuel Capacity: 1815 kg (4,000 lb)
  • Length: 11 m (36 ft)
  • Wingspan: 20 m (66 ft)
  • Empty weight: 2223 kg (4,900 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 4760 kg (10,500 lb)[44]


  • Service ceiling: 15 km (50,000 ft)
  • Operational altitude: 7.5 km (25,000 ft) [45]
  • Endurance: 14–28 hours (14 hours fully loaded) [46]
  • Range: 5,926 km (3,200 nmi, 3,682 mi)
  • Payload: 3,750 lb (1,700 kg)
  • Maximum speed: 482 km/h (300 mph, 260 knots)
  • Cruise speed: 276-313 km/h (172-195 mph, 150-170 knots) [47]


  • 6 Hardpoints
    • 1,500 lb (680 kg) on the two inboard weapons stations
    • 500–600 lb (230–270 kg) on the two middle stations
    • 150–200 lb (68–91 kg) on the outboard stations


  • AN/APY-8 Lynx II radar[48]
  • MTS-B


  • Unit cost: USD 10.5 million for one aircraft with sensors [49]

[edit] See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

[edit] References

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b "Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda". New York Times. March 16, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-03-17. "Considered a novelty a few years ago, the Air Force’s fleet has grown to 195 Predators and 28 Reapers, a new and more heavily armed cousin of the Predator." 
  3. ^ a b c d e 'Reaper' moniker given to MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle
  4. ^ The Rise Of The Droids
  5. ^ MQ-9 Reaper
  6. ^ Unmanned Reapers bound for Iraq, Afghanistan
  7. ^ a b General Atomics official Predator B website
  8. ^ article Predator RQ-1 / MQ-1 / MQ-9 Reaper - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), USA
  9. ^ Note: endurance figures vary greatly from source to source. The current figure being publicized by the Air Force is 14 hours.
  10. ^ a b c d e History of UAVs
  11. ^ a b Air Force's hunter-killer UAV now flying in Afghanistan
  12. ^ SSgt Amy Robinson, "FAA Authorizes Predators to seek survivors", Air Combat Command Public Affairs, 11 August 2006.
  13. ^ - Pilotless Robot Bomber Squadron Heads for Afghanistan, Iraq - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News
  14. ^ "Reaper scores insurgent kill in Afghanistan", Air Force Times, 27 October 2007. Accessed 15 August 2008.
  15. ^ Waterman, Shaun, "Bigger, Deadlier Reaper Drone Deployed In Iraq", Washington Times, 5 August 2008, Pg. 17.
  16. ^ General Atomics official Mariner web page
  17. ^
  18. ^ NASA ERAST Fact Sheet
  19. ^ NASA - Ikhana Unmanned Science and Research Aircraft System
  20. ^ a b "CHI06MA121". National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved on 2008-06-18. 
  21. ^ a b "Office of Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine, UAS Presentation" (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-10-31. 
  22. ^ Alice Lipowicz (2006-10-17). ""Predator to be on the prowl again"". Government Computer News. Retrieved on 2006-10-31. 
  23. ^ ""CBP UAS Overview"". 2009-02-06. Retrieved on 2009-02-07. 
  24. ^ Defense Update article Australia Tests Maritime Surveillance UAV
  25. ^ a b Air Forces Monthly, December 2007 issue, p.6.
  26. ^ BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Skynet military launch is delayed
  27. ^ "United Kingdom - MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Aircraft" (PDF). Retrieved on 2008-02-02. 
  28. ^ [ "RAF destroys £10m spy plane"]. Retrieved on 2008-04-22. [dead link]
  29. ^ a b Fishpool, Michael, "Germany, Italy make initial requests for MQ-9 Reaper",, August 5, 2008, accessed August 7, 2008
  30. ^ DSCA, August 1 ,2008
  31. ^ DSCA, August 1 ,2008
  32. ^
  33. ^ NASA - NASA Supports UAS Fire Mapping Efforts on California Fire
  34. ^
  35. ^ Ryan Whitney (2007-05-03). "Air Force stands up first unmanned aircraft systems wing". 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. 
  36. ^ Brook, Tom Vanden, "Air Force Requests More Fighter Drones", USA Today, 6 March 2008, p. 6.
  37. ^ Thom Shanker, "Air Force Plans Altered Role in Iraq", New York Times, July 29, 2008
  38. ^ Mannion, Jim, "Air Force Looks To A New Drone To Keep Peace In Iraq", Agence France-Presse, August 3, 2008.
  39. ^ "Warplanes: Rise of the Droids". Strategy Page. 2008-08-11. 
  40. ^ [2]
  41. ^ NATO Unmanned Aircraft Systems - Operational
  42. ^ Ministry of Defence (2007-11-09). "Reaper takes to the air in Afghanistan". Retrieved on 2008-07-18. 
  43. ^
  44. ^ Factsheets : MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle : MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
  45. ^ Field Army ISTAR Handbook (Restricted)
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  • This article contains material that originally came from the web article Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by Greg Goebel, which exists in the Public Domain.

[edit] External links

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