The Gray Eagle aircraft from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has surpassed 1 million flight hours. This is the extended range version of the Gray Eagle. Photo Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

The Gray Eagle aircraft from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has surpassed 1 million flight hours. This is the extended range version of the Gray Eagle. Photo Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

Gray Eagle, an unmanned aircraft flown by the U.S. Army, surpassed 1 million flight hours on March 16. The milestone occurred in regular Army flight operations, according to the aircraft’s builder, Poway-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

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David R. Alexander

“This landmark event demonstrates the inherent value of our Gray Eagle systems for the war fighter,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “It also is a testament to the great partnership between GA-ASI and the U.S. Army, which have worked together to expand the capability of Gray Eagle so the system will continue to be a key enabler for today’s mission and an enduring platform for tomorrow’s Multi-Domain Operations.” The latter refers to a concept of the Army and other military services working together in all realms, including air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

In all, General Atomics Aeronautical’s family of remotely piloted aircraft — including the U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper — has surpassed 6 million flight hours.

Like other GA-ASI products, Gray Eagle can carry Hellfire missiles as well as electronics to collect video and other intelligence. Unlike other GA-ASI aircraft, Gray Eagle uses a heavy fuel engine to support the Army’s concept of a single fuel on the battlefield.

The Gray Eagle model first flew in 2004 under the name “Army iGnat.” The standard MQ-1C Gray Eagle was first fielded 2009; that was followed by more than 250 such aircraft.

GA-ASI is now offering an extended range model of Gray Eagle capable of staying in the air for 40 hours, compared with 25 hours for the standard MQ-1C.

The company builds the aircraft in Poway, selling to U.S. and allied military forces. Customers sign annual contracts with GA-ASI to sustain their fleets.

The Air Force has made extensive use of the original Predator aircraft and a similar, heavier version, the MQ-9A Reaper. In recent years, the U.S. Marine Corps has started using MQ-9s.

The extended range Gray Eagle is just one of GA-ASI’s initiatives to develop its business, particularly overseas. It is working with several foreign governments. The United Kingdom is buying an aircraft called the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. In January, the company said it was developing a version of SkyGuardian with a specialized radar from Leonardo for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). In 2020, GA-ASI went to Japan to demonstrate its aircraft as an offshore ISR asset.

Several European countries fly MQ-9A aircraft. In November, the company delivered the final two aircraft of a four-aircraft order to Spain.

In October, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems opened a customer service center in Dresden, Germany for the benefit of its European customers.

General Atomics Aeronautical is an affiliate of General Atomics, a privately held technology and defense business. The companies do not disclose revenue.