General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. said it successfully demonstrated an automatic takeoff and landing feature using a satellite data link on a company-owned MQ-9B aircraft (a heavier version of the original Predator). The aircraft also maneuvered the taxiways at the demonstration site — Laguna Army Airfield near Yuma, Arizona — while under the satellite data link.

General Atomics’ aircraft have pilots, but they are not on board. Pilots direct the aircraft from a cockpit on the ground. GA-ASI said the satellite communications takeoff and landing feature will help customers with manpower constraints when such aircraft are forward-deployed (that is, deployed in trouble spots).

GA-ASI plans to deliver MQ-9Bs to the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force in the early 2020s.

GA-ASI is an affiliate of privately held General Atomics, specializing in aerospace. GA’s Electromagnetic Systems unit offers weapons systems as well as heavy equipment for industrial customers.