Saturday, December 19, 2009

General Atomics Predator

Ok, maybe I was a bit harsh with my comments on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pilots and the UAVs itself in the U-2 blog. After much thought I realized that there was more to UAVs than being overgrown remote control planes. The reason for the apprehension comes from the traditional thought within aviators of the aircraft being controlled by a pilot within it. The thought of the pilot sitting behind a desk while their aircraft is airborne is seen as the sign of the end of times. It is a horrific thought to even ponder that aircraft can autonomously fly by themselves or be controlled by an armchair pilot. Nonetheless, the Predator has shown that it is a very capable and efficient aircraft through its combat service. It is also one of the most efficient and practical designs that can come out of aviation since, dare I say, the Douglas DC-3. It is imperative that I add the Predator into my blog before it becomes too cool for it. I also promised someone I would give a detailed look at one of General Atomics’ greatest creation.
Individuals who have recently purchased Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 have either faced the wrath of a Predator’s missile or have giggled at seeing their adversary’s last moments caught on the Predator’s infrared camera.

Moments before some hapless gamers curse at General Atomics for creating their flying assassin.

The Predator had an interesting history starting from spying on the Serbians debauchery in the Balkans and then on the Iraqis and Taliban before Uncle Sam decided to give it some six shooters to play with (in the form of Hellfire air to ground missiles and Stinger air to air missile). It’s a simple design because it has the sensors in front, the fuel in the long rectangular wings, and the light engine in the back. The aircraft is well balanced in weight in order to provide a fuel efficient flight and allows many of its components to be easily accessible for maintenance. Despite the stiff price and off the shelf technology it carries, the Predator is cheaper than a manned reconnaissance aircraft and uses the off the shelf technology to provide the advantage viewpoint of our soldiers below; that is unless the baddies also use off the shelf technology to get their unencrypted view of themselves from the Predator .
Nonetheless, the long wings allow it to glide in the air and maintain a low speed flight to loiter over a specific zone for many hours at a time, giving the soldiers on the ground and the Brass in the command centers the optimum view of the battlefront. The company that created the Predator has a curious history before their first UAV was created.
General Atomics began as an offshoot of General Dynamics in order to construct nuclear technologies for the United States of America in San Diego, until it was purchased by Gulf Oil in 1967. [1] After being passed around like a nasty fruitcake between oil companies, it was bought by Neal and Linden Blue who took the company from the oil company to make, among many things, airplanes. [2]
In the early 1990s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) wanted a new reconnaissance drone plane. It wasn’t the first time the CIA had flown spy drones. Drone aircraft have existed even before the Second World War. Some examples were Teledyne Ryan Firebee (first drone with a jet engine) and the Lockheed D-21 (the Mach 3+ supersonic drone that spied on the People’s Republic of China)
The Predator’s cocaine driven Kawasaki riding uncle.

However, these drones were expensive and impractical. The Firebee only flew fast and quickly consumed much of its fuel while the D-21 quickly zipped by in order to not get shot down by the mainland Chinese (which they later caught on with quicker Surface to Air Missiles). The CIA needed a drone that could stick around a zone of conflict and not make the Top Brass worry if the drone gets shot down. By 1994, General Atomics gave the CIA and the Pentagon the RQ-1A Predator (R for Reconnaissance and Q for being an unmanned aircraft). This was a rather revolutionary design for an unmanned aircraft. The wings were long and rectangular to get the best lift at the slowest speed possible. It was a light aircraft so it didn’t need a huge engine to power it. The engine, a Rotax 914, is a small four-cylinder motor with a 115 horsepower engine. [4] Its almost the same caliber as a motor of a Honda Fit. This small engine is to keep all of this in the air:


The Predator entered military service in 1995, right in time to spy on the Serbians during the many conflicts that occurred in the Balkans. Many more flew and went down for the rest of the decade. Despite this, there was no loss of life, nor any danger to the airmen. It later became a common enforcer of Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch in patrolling the Iraqi airspace and patrol the ground during the latter war. It was after 2001 that the Predator was armed with anti-tank Hellfire missiles, which designated the aircraft as the MQ-1A (M for multi-role). The Predator also broke a new record in 2002. It fired on another aircraft. It used a Stinger missile (the same anti-air missile soldiers, Taliban, and Modern Warfare 2 gamers fondly use against the Predator) to take out the Iraqi fighter jet. While it lost the fight, it was never designed to fly and fight like the fighter jocks, it proved a milestone as being the first UAV to enter a dogfight.

The future looks bright for the R2D2 of the skies. It is the frontline aircraft in attacking the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan/northern Pakistan. It also spawned its more powerful cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper.

A more powerful and larger UAV with a powerful turboprop engine and capable of using many missiles and bombs that are usually carried by the fancier fighter jets.

There is also an advanced version that recently entered service this year. The MQ-1C Warrior has a longer range and a diesel piston engine that uses jet fuel:


In short, this aircraft is slowly becoming a ubiquitous sight in the news and in the warzone. Heck, it is even slipping into the mainstream media (with it being part of games such as Modern Warfare 2) and even in webcomics. It’s practicality and efficiency allows it to loiter long enough to give the soldiers a bird’s eye view of their battlezone. As a hunter-killer UAV, it has proven time and time again that it is one of the best weapons of modern combat and one of the most practical aircraft to ever take to the skies.

Stay frosty.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, 'General Atomics', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 December 2009, 01:57 UTC,
[3] Wikipedia contributors, "Lockheed D-21/M-21," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
[4] Wikipedia contributors, "MQ-1 Predator," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
[5] Own picture. used Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and addons to this software.
[6] Wikipedia contributors, "MQ-9 Reaper," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
[7] Wikipedia contributors, "MQ-1C Warrior," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
[8] Own picture. used Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and addons to this software.

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