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GA-ASI Looks to Build on Its Customer Base in NATO

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. wants to sell its unmanned aircraft to Germany.

Work continues on a sale to the Netherlands.

There are no sales yet, but the company has teamed up with a German firm to position a version of its Predator B for a potential sale to the German armed forces.

The partner is Spezialtechnik Dresden GmbH. Its aircraft, called Guardian Eagle, will be built to fly safely in civilian airspace and comply with NATO’s UAV system airworthiness requirements.

Predator B is known as the Reaper in the U.S. Air Force and the U.K.’s Royal Air Force. France and Italy also fly the Predator B, and Spain is acquiring it. GA-ASI asserts in a news release that the aircraft is becoming the standard medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned system for NATO.

The Poway company showed off the Predator B at a big air show in Germany in early June — an event that was notable in itself.

The ILA Berlin Air Show was the first time GA-ASI displayed its Predator B to the public, anywhere. (Versions of the original Predator — a smaller aircraft — are on display at museums, including the Smithsonian and the San Diego Air & Space Museum.)

GA-ASI offered updates on several projects in conjunction with the German show:

• The business said the Dutch company Fokker Technologies would build and service landing gear for the Predator B. So far, the Netherlands has not bought the Predator B, but it is a potential customer. GA-ASI said the deal shows its commitment to getting European content into its aircraft. The Poway company also said it might work with Fokker to develop a next-generation landing gear for its Predator family. Fokker is an old name in aviation and has concentrated on landing gear in recent years. It supplies that component to the U.S. and allied forces’ newest fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. U.K.-based GKN PLC acquired Fokker late last year.

• GA-ASI said its next-generation Predator B “Big Wing” model set an endurance record with a 37½ hour flight in the California desert earlier this year. The flight did everything a typical Predator flight would do. The aircraft’s wingspan is 13 feet longer than the conventional Predator B, and the model carries more fuel. More tests are planned. GA thinks the Big Wing might be able to stay in the air for up to 42 hours.

• In other news, GA-ASI said that the company and its Italian customer are working to integrate an Israeli sensor, the RecceLite from Rafael, onto an Italian Predator B. Flight tests are scheduled for early 2017.

• GA-ASI offered an update on tests of anti-collision technology (called a detect and avoid system) aboard a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Predator B model, noting the tests were successful. Customs and Border Protection operates nine GA-ASI aircraft.

The Poway business also released an update on its unmanned aircraft flight school that it is building in Grand Forks, N.D. With its Air Force base, the North Dakota town is a hub for unmanned aircraft. GA-ASI said it inked contracts to collaborate with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation — which would provide instructors — and CAE, a Canadian company that makes Predator flight simulators.

Aircraft in the Predator family actually do have pilots on the ground. With the help of satellite communications, the pilots can be tens, hundreds or thousands of miles away.

“We look forward to working with UND Aerospace and CAE to meet the growing global demand for (remotely piloted aircraft) instruction,” said Linden P. Blue, CEO of GA-ASI, in a prepared statement.

GA-ASI is an affiliate of General Atomics and is privately held.

Send San Diego defense contracting news to bradg@sdbj.com.

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