The MQ-1 Predator UAV is one of America's most prolific and productive drones, having notched more than a million hours of flight time since its introduction in 1994. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for continued improvement to the platform. In fact, General Dynamics has also been hard at work with a slightly less deadly version that can fly for twice as long.
Dubbed the Gray Eagle and introduced in 2004, this Mid-Altitude Long Endurance UAV is built more for reconnaissance than remote missile strikes. The UAV is outfitted with a Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR-GMTI) system as well as an AN/AAS-52 Multi-spectral Targeting System (MTS) for target acquisition and tracking as well as overwatch and convoy scouting operations. That's not to say its toothless, however. The Gray Eagle can tote up to 360 kilos of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or GBU-44/B Viper Strike guided bombs.
The Gray Eagle also has exceptional longevity in the air, especially after its latest engine upgraded surveillance platform, replacing the smaller 165-hp Thielert diesel. Not only does the new engine carry twice the fuel supply (590 kilos vs the earlier's 260 kilos) it also increases the UAV's maximum takeoff weight to 1,905 kilos from 1,630 kilos, and internal payload capacity by an extra 63 kilos to a total of 245. The new engine provides a service ceiling of nearly 30,000 feet and can remain aloft for over half a day longer than its predecessor, flying for up to 45 hours straight.
The Gray Eagle platform has logged more than 80,000 hours of flight time, including an impressive total of 20,000 successful auto-launches using the automatic takeoff and landing system (ATLS). Good thing too, since the Gray Eagles can now stay up far longer than even the most caffeinated drone operator. [Wiki - AIN - GA-ASI]