On May 10, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GAASI) revealed that work on a short takeoff and landing (STOL) version of the MQ9B SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian remotely piloted aircraft has begun (RPA). The main airframe and systems will be the same as the present MQ9B, which has been ordered by the United Kingdom (as the Protector), Belgium, and the Japanese Coast Guard, but the STOL variant will have a new broad-chord wing with high-lift devices and revised tail surfaces.
The STOL MQ-9B is part of GA-Mojave ASI’s effort, which began in 2017 and saw its first flight last year in the shape of a modified MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range aircraft. The MQ-9B is larger and more powerful, with the advantage of being able to fly from smaller airfields. It will be able to operate from aircraft carriers as well as large-deck amphibious assault ships. Potential customers such as the United Kingdom, the United States Navy, and the United States Marine Corps may be interested.
The concept, according to GAASI, is envisioned as an optional wing and tail kit that changes a conventional MQ-9B into a MQ9B STOL. It’s being built with the goal of completing the conversion in less than a day.
“Imagine removing your Jeep’s hardtop. You remove it, store it in your garage, and you now have an open automobile “President of GAASI David R. Alexander stated. “If it rains, you retract the hardtop. We’re identical. Put the STOL kit on a normal MQ-9B and go flying.”
The MQ-9B STOL is being built with a folding wing to accommodate shipborne operations and may be stored with a minimal deck or hangar footprint. The wing folds are asymmetric such that the long outer wings can fold in front of each other, keeping the folded RPA inside hangar height restrictions. The vehicle can navigate on deck with its wings folded, and they can be unfurled when there is enough deck space available before takeoff.
The RPA’s STOL capability allows it to launch and recover without the use of deck aids like catapults or arrester mechanisms. Large-deck assault carriers, which fly STOVL fixed-wing aircraft like the AV-8B and F-35B, are already missing these features. The MQ-9B’s autonomous takeoff and landing technologies can be incorporated with existing ship systems, such as the US carriers’ Joint Precision Approach and Landing System. The MQ-9B is started and launched using a small laptop, and once in the air, control of the RPA can be given over to other controllers, such as remote land-based controllers utilising satellite communications or manned aircraft in manned-unmanned teaming missions.
The MQ9B STOL might be employed for a variety of missions in a naval environment, including its basic persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations. As a result, it can offer a 24-hour defensive perimeter around naval formations. It can offer maritime surveillance and execute anti-submarine warfare in the SeaGuardian configuration, as well as perform airborne early-warning missions.