General Atomics Aeronautical Systems recently announced its Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper-Extended Range remotely piloted aircraft has entered initial operational service with the US Air Force. The Reaper-ER, a quick reaction capability requirement from the Air Force, which asked the company to produce 38 MQ-9 Reaper-ER variants in 13 months and declare them operational 18 months after receiving the contract, deployed operationally last month. The MQ-9 airframe is made into an ER variant with the integration of a retrofittable modification package featuring wing-mounted fuel tanks—extending the aircraft’s range—an improved propeller, a heavyweight trailing arm landing gear system, and an alcohol/water injection system, among other modifications. The ER variant allows the aircraft to mix configurations of both fuel and weapons as well. Frank Pace, president of the company’s aircraft systems division, said the GA team was pleased the ER program met expectations and rose to the “enormous challenge” of meeting the quick reaction schedule. The initial contract award was issued in February 2014, with first flight of the ER variant occurring just a week later on Feb. 12. The quick reaction contract calls for all 38 MQ-9s to be delivered by July 2016.
Three B-1B Lancers from the 7th Bomb Wing flew over the Indo-Pacific alongside F-16s from the Japanese Air Self Defense Force recently, as part of a joint large force exercise. The mission began and ended in the continental U.S., as the bombers flew 31 hours and landed Jan. 11.