General Atomics Avenger
|Avenger (Predator C)|
|Role||Unmanned combat air vehicle|
|Manufacturer||General Atomics Aeronautical Systems|
|First flight||4 April 2009|
|Primary user||United States|
$12 million to $15 million
|Developed from||MQ-9 Reaper|
The General Atomics Avenger (formerly Predator C) is a developmental unmanned combat air vehicle built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the U.S. military. Its first flight occurred on 4 April 2009. Unlike the previous MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) drones, the Avenger is powered by a turbofan engine, and its design includes stealth features such as internal weapons storage, and an S-shaped exhaust for reduced infrared and radar signatures. The Avenger will support the same weapons as the MQ-9, and carry the Lynx synthetic aperture radar and a version of the F-35 Lightning II's electro-optical targeting system (EOTS), called the Advanced Low-observable Embedded Reconnaissance Targeting (ALERT) system. The Avenger will use the same ground support infrastructure as the MQ-1 and MQ-9, including the ground control station and existing communications networks.
The first flight of the first prototype Avenger occurred on 4 April 2009 at the company's Grey Butte Field Airport Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, California. The aircraft took off and landed without any discrepancies and was ready to fly again once refueled. Following flights were performed successfully on 13 and 14 April. The second prototype Avenger performed its first flight on 12 January 2012, meeting all performance objectives and refining the first prototype design to an operational capability. The Tail 2 prototype featured a four-foot longer fuselage to accommodate larger payloads and more fuel. This larger Avenger can carry a larger payload of up to 3,500 pounds (1,600 kg) of weapons internally and on its wing hard points.
On 15 February 2012, the Air Force cancelled its MQ-X program, which was supposed to find an aircraft to replace the MQ-9 Reaper. The Sea Avenger variant is part of the Navy's Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. If it is selected by the Navy, the Air Force may consider buying the ground-based version for service.
On 15 November 2012, the Avenger flew for three hours while being controlled by the General Atomics Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station (GCS). The Advanced Cockpit GCS has a wrap-around visual display and multi-dimensional moving map to increase situational awareness and reduce pilot workload. The Advanced Cockpit GCS has flown an MQ-1 Predator and is planned to fly an MQ-9 Reaper as part of an Air Force initiative to enable interoperability with all USAF Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA).
In July 2013, a third Avenger was scheduled to begin flight testing. Assembly of the fourth Avenger was expected to be finished by spring 2014.
On 27 October 2016, General Atomics flew an extended-range Avenger featuring wings extended by 3.2 m (10 ft) to 23.2 m (76 ft). The extended wings add about 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) of fuel totaling 4,600 kg (10,100 lb), extending endurance from 15 hours to 20 hours but reducing internal payload to 3,000 lb (1,400 kg). Since its first flight in 2009, the Avenger has completed more than 13,000 flight hours, reaching 11,000 hours in July 2016 and accumulating most of those hours within the past three years.
In December 2011, it was reported that the Air Force had ordered an Avenger and that it would be deployed to Afghanistan. "This aircraft will be used as a test asset and will provide a significantly increased weapons and sensors payload capacity on an aircraft that will be able to fly to targets much more rapidly than the MQ-9 [Reaper] UAS," the USAF said in an announcement. "Since it has an internal weapons bay and four hardpoints on each wing it will also allow greater flexibility and will accommodate a large selection of next generation sensor and weapons payloads." The aircraft ordered was the original Tail 1 prototype version. This announcement sparked rumors that the aircraft would be deployed to monitor neighboring Iran and Pakistan. These allegations were made because the Avenger is stealthy, while the battlespace over Afghanistan is free of radar guided missiles, as well as any other anti-aircraft weapons. The announcement also came two weeks after the Iran-US RQ-170 incident. The Air Force responded by clarifying that the purchase was initiated in July of that year, well before the incident. However, the Air Force later clarified that the Avenger was being purchased only as a test asset, and that it was not being sent to Afghanistan. Discrepancies in the solicitation are believed to have caused the misinterpretation. After testing, the Air Force decided that the Avenger version they evaluated offered only modest improvements over the MQ-9 in terms of speed, payload, and reduced signature, and didn't meet survivability and reliability requirements to survive in contested environments needed to warrant buying a new aircraft of the type.
With the drawdown of the War in Afghanistan, the U.S. may lose airbases inside the country that are necessary for striking targets in neighboring Pakistan. Plans are being made to relocate drone bases to other countries in Central Asia to avoid needing U.S. military personnel to protect their bases in Afghanistan. Due to the longer distances from potential targets, General Atomics has pitched the Avenger to the Central Intelligence Agency as a better drone for the mission. The jet-powered Avenger can fly 1,800 mi (2,900 km) from its operating base and stay airborne for 18 hours.
On 26 October 2016, the General Atomics vice president revealed that the Avenger was used to conduct a leaflet drop in Syria.
General Atomics has offered the Predator C Avenger to Canada as a contender for its Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) armed UAV project. In 2016, the JUSTAS project was prioritized by the Royal Canadian Air Force and Liberal government. The RCAF has requested that the drones be armed, therefore making the General Atomics Avenger the only suitable contender as Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 'Arctic Hawk' is unarmed.
On 22 September 2015, the U.S. stated they backed India's membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, which would enable them to buy armed drones. Two days later, the Indian Air Force sent a letter to General Atomics saying it wanted to purchase the Avenger. The Avenger would allow the IAF to reach all of Pakistan, enabling them to retaliate against Pakistan-based terrorists without the risk of losing pilots. It could also be useful as a deterrent during border disputes with China.
On 3 May 2010, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) introduced Sea Avenger, a carrier-based derivative of the Predator C Avenger UAS, intended to fulfill the U.S. Navy's need for an Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS). The company formally proposed Sea Avenger to the Naval Air Systems Command via a request for information submitted on 30 April 2010.
The Sea Avenger includes a retractable electro-optical/infrared sensor, internal weapons bay, and folding wings. The aircraft's structure was designed with the flexibility to accommodate carrier suitable landing gear, tailhook, drag devices, and other provisions for carrier operations.
On 15 February 2011, General Atomics announced that they had successfully completed a key wind tunnel test on a model of the Sea Avenger. The goal of the test was to validate the low-speed characteristics of an updated wing in the approach, launch, and cruise configurations. The advanced design utilizes proprietary wing technology that enables high-speed flight, while also supporting excellent low-speed handling qualities desired for aircraft carrier landings. The tests took 90 hours and were performed over eight days, which were completed ahead of schedule. The wind tunnel test validated the low-speed characteristics of a new wing, resulting in higher endurance and lower approach speeds. The new wing is also designed to increase aircraft dash speeds, decreasing the time to respond to potential threats.
On 14 August 2013, General Atomics was awarded a $15 million contract to develop the airframe of their UCLASS entry. Contracts of the same amount were awarded to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman for their competing designs. A competition for a final airframe design was expected after January 2014, but has been delayed until sometime in 2016.
In April 2014, General Atomics displayed images of the Sea Avenger at the Navy League Sea Air and Space exposition. As requirements for the UCLASS program were altered from a high-end strike aircraft to an ISR machine operating in permissive environments, the Sea Avenger was modified accordingly. It appears to have four external hardpoints and a small weapons bay, a wing-mounted buddy-refueling store to perform as an aerial tanker, and a larger airframe with a larger engine. If Navy requirements favor a UAV optimized for permissive ISR over broadband stealth, the Sea Avenger may better meet them, as it was originally pitched as having a reduced signature to be "stealthier" than other aircraft. Broadband stealth that is effective against low-frequency radar bands like VHF and UHF usually are present in a flying wing design. Sea Avenger stealth capabilities seem to be limited to higher frequencies like C, X, and Ku bands. General Atomics and Boeing are offering UCLASS wing-body-tail concepts optimized for modest threat environments, while Lockheed and Northrop Grumman are going for full broadband stealth flying-wing designs.
Data from 
- Crew: 2 (ground control)
- Length: 44 ft (13 m)
- Wingspan: 66 ft (20 m) sweep angle 17°
- Max takeoff weight: 18,200 lb (8,255 kg)
- Fuel capacity: 7,900 pounds (3,600 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545B turbofan, 3,991 lbf (17.75 kN) thrust
- Maximum speed: 460 mph (740 km/h; 400 kn)
- Cruise speed: 402 mph (647 km/h; 349 kn)
- Endurance: 18 hours
- Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
Internal weapons bay with 3,500 pounds (1,600 kg) capacity. 6 external hardpoints. 6,500 pounds (2,900 kg) payload total.
- AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
- GBU-39 SDB – 250 lb bombs
- GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-38 JDAM – 500 lb bombs
- GBU-16 Paveway II, GBU-32 JDAM – 1000 lb bombs
- GBU-31 JDAM – 2000 lb bombs
- HELLADS 150 kW directed energy weapon
- Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar
- AESA Wide-area surveillance sensor
- MS-177 multi-spectral imaging sensor
- Related development
- Related lists
- New Predator C “Avenger” Drone Operationally Ready After Testing – Global Aviation Report, 24 February 2014
- Third Predator C Avenger Rolls Off Production Line – UAS Vision, 25 June 2013
- Gary Robbins. "More drones, smaller Navy". U-T San Diego. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
- Fulghum, David A.; Sweetman, Bill (17 April 2009). "Predator C Avenger Makes First Flights". Aviation Week. Retrieved 18 April 2009.
- "Avenger UAV Revealed", Air Force Magazine, June 2009, Volume 92, Number 6, page 14.
- New Predator C Hints At Stealth, Weaponry
- Stealthy F-35 Sensor To Fly On Avenger UAV
- "GA-ASI Successfully Executes First Flight of Predator C Avenger". 20 April 2009. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
- Jet-Powered Predator C Avenger Successfully Executes First Flight – Deagel.com, 20 April 2009
- USAF says adios to MQ-X – DoDBuzz.com, 15 February 2012
- One of These Bots Will Be the Navy’s Next Killer Drone – Wired.com, 27 March 2013
- Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station Flies Predator C Avenger – General Atomics press release, 24 April 2013
- Ready to Go – Air Force Magazine, 26 June 2013
- General Atomics flies extended-range Avenger – Flightglobal.com, 11 November 2016
- General Atomics Predator C Avenger ER Makes First Flight – Ainonline.com, 11 November 2016
- US Air Force orders General Atomics Avenger – Flightglobal.com, 12 December 2011
- New Armed Stealth Drone Heads to Afghanistan (And Maybe Iran, Too) – Wired.com, 13 December 2011
- USAF’s New Drone Not Going to Afghanistan – Defensetech.org, 22 December 2011
- The U.S. Air Force Was Not Fond of the Next-Gen Predator Drone – Medium.com/War-is-Boring, 13 November 2014
- New Jet-Powered Drone Can Kill 1,800 Miles From Home Base – Wired.com, 21 February 2014
- Canada’s UAV Requirement Prompts New Move by GA-ASI – Ainonline.com, 26 April 2013
- India Seeks Armed Drones From U.S. in Challenge to Pakistan – Bloomberg.com, 9 November 2015
- "GA-ASI Introduces Sea Avenger UAS for UCLASS Carrier Operations" General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Accessed 4 May 2010
- GA-ASI Completes Key Wind Tunnel Test on Sea Avenger UAS Model – GA-ASI.com, 15 February 2011
- US Navy Moves Ahead To Develop Unmanned Carrier Aircraft – Defensenews.com, 14 August 2013
- Osborn, Kris (4 February 2015). "Navy's UCLASS Competition Delayed Until Next Year". Retrieved 15 March 2015.
- General Atomics Shows Off Company’s UCLASS Option – News.USNI.org, 10 April 2014
- Avenger pdf
- "P&WC: PW545B". Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
- General Atomics Plans 150kW Laser Tests; Eye On AC-130, Avenger – Breakingdefense.com, 21 December 2015