General Atomics is upgrading their Predator B drone, known as the MQ-9 Reaper in the US, so that it is able to fly as high as 50,000 feet for more than 40 hours at a time.

The new capabilities will come thanks to upgrades such as a 79-foot wingspan which will make the drone more fuel efficient. It will also be modified to be compliant with European regulations, and will able to be quickly certified for use, with features such as lightening protection, different composite materials, and sense and avoid technology.

“Frankly, Europe is ahead of the development of that,” Christopher Ames, director of international strategic development for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. told DoDBuzz. “The FAA hasn’t really come out with something like this yet, but they’ll be beneficiaries by looking across the Atlantic.”

“For years, we’ve sort of gone in a circle where the FAA said, ‘We’re not going to write regulations for sense and avoid of unmanned aircraft until we know what’s in the realm of the reasonable,’ Industry said, ‘we’re not going to spend a dime on building anything until we know what the requirements are.’ So it’s sort of been a standoff,” Ames said.

“Our company, on its own dime, has jumped into this and has created a sense and avoid program.”

General Atomics will also be using the same commercial equipment found in commercial airlines, such as Terminal Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADSB), to identify “cooperative” aircraft — those that emit electronic information defining their place in space, heading and speed, DodBuzz reported.

“The pilot who is sitting in the ground control station will get a display that offers recommendations to ensure safe separation of aircraft, and he can follow that recommendation and pass without issue,” Ames continued. “And if the pilot is distracted and doesn’t take action, the aircraft will automatically execute a maneuver to ensure safe separation.”

Ames says that General Atomics will be sharing their information with the FAA, NASA, and other partners to show what is possible and work as a guide for the development of rules.

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