Merry Christmas: The Air Force Just Bought Its Biggest And Fastest $19 Million Dollar Armed Drone Ever

Meet the Avenger:

The Air Force just bought itself the next generation “hunter-killer” drone, and at nearly 16,000 pounds and 44 feet long the Avenger is now the largest UAV in the U.S. arsenal.

The Avenger

The more powerful ‘Predator C Plus made by General Atomics.

William Hennigan of the LA Times reports the $15 million drone is one of the models in consideration to replace the aging Predators and Reapers in use for the past several years (via Stars and Stripes).

Made by General Atomics, the Avenger is powered by a turbofan engine, has internal weapons storage, and an “S” shaped exhaust for minimal heat and radar signature.

Though it carries the Lynx Synthetic aperture radar and a version of the F-35’s electro-targeting system, the craft will use the same ground control as the MQ-9 drones currently in operation.

The new drone won’t be able to fly as long as the Reaper, 20 hours compared the the Reaper’s 30, but it will reach a top speed of 460 mph, more than 120 mph faster than its predecessor.

After reports earlier this month that the drone would be sent to Afghanistan, Air Force officials now say the Avenger may be years away from active duty.

Avenger - A Stealthy Combat UAV from General Atomics

Avenger – A new, Stealthy Combat Predator C UAV from General Atomics. Photo General Atomics via

UAV manufacturer General Atomics began flight testing of a larger, stealthier UAV dubbed as the ‘Avenger’. Formerly known as ‘Predator C’, the new jet powered UAV made its first flights Apr. 4, 2009. The UAV’s shape reflects the designer’s goal to reduce the aircraft electromagnetic and thermal signature. It is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PW545B engine feeding from the curved dorsal intake, reducing radar reflections from the turbine blades. The exhaust is partly shielded by the V-tail which also reduces the aircraft thermal signature while serpentine exhaust eliminates radar reflections from inside the engine. The Avenger is designed to fly a 20 hour mission. The Avenger is designed to operate at altitude up to 60,000 ft and cruising speed of 400 knots.

The unmanned aircraft can take different payloads weighing up to 3,000 lbs., including EO, radar, and electronic payloads, as well as weapons (typical weapons carried could include GBU-38 Laser/JDAM), stored in an internal weapons bay and underwing. For stealthy missions all weapons are carried internally. Aircraft sensors will include the Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) developed by General Atomics and various Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) camera systems. For special mission applications the Avenger could also perform stealthy recce missions, utilizing a semi-submerged wide-area surveillance payload configured to fit into the weapon’s bay. According to General Atomics, a recce system based on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 FLIR is currently being evaluated, as well as an in-house full-motion video sensor. On non stealthy missions the bay can be used to carry fuel for additional 120 minutes of flight. To maintain the clean, stealthy underside, the Avenger would probably rely on specialized integral, conformal or retractable payloads.

According to the manufacturer, Avenger presents a no risk/low-cost procurement option as it employs the same proven materials and avionics as Predator B and is controlled from and fully compatible with the the General Atomics Ground Control Stations (GCSs) already used to control all Predator-series aircraft currently in use by U.S. forces and allied military services.


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