General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. recently announced the first flight of a longer-endurance Predator B unmanned aircraft with extended wings. The new wings give the aircraft 48 percent more flight time or greater, as well as the ability to carry more objects under the wings.

GA-ASI used its own funds to develop the aircraft.

The first flight, on Feb. 18 at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Test Facility in Palmdale, took the aircraft to 7,500 feet. Subsequent testing will take it to a higher' altitude.

The new aircraft has a 79-foot wingspan. A conventional Predator B has a 66-foot wingspan.

GA-ASI unmanned aircraft can stay aloft for long periods. The longer wings and greater internal fuel capacity extends the aircraft’s endurance from 27 hours to more than 40 hours. Additional “hard points” on the wings let the aircraft carry more external stores; many Predator aircraft carry Hellfire missiles as well as laser-guided bombs under their wings.

GA-ASI engineers designed the new wings to match NATO airworthiness standards.

The business reported additional improvements in short-field takeoff and landing performance. Spoilers on the wings enable precision automatic landings. The wings also have provisions for leading-edge de-ice and integrated low- and high-band radio frequency antennas.

The U.S. Air Force currently operates an earlier version of Predator B ER (extended range) featuring two wing-mounted fuel tanks. The Air Force and other militaries call the Predator B by the name MQ-9 Reaper.