Long-Legged Reaper’s First Jaunt

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9 Reaper extended-range variant took to the skies for the first time on Feb. 12, company spokeswoman Kimberly Kasitz told the Daily Report. This configuration features two external fuel pods to increase the remotely piloted aircraft’s endurance. On Feb. 5, the Air Force awarded a contract worth up to $117.2 million for the company to supply 38 MQ-9s with the fuel tanks by July 2016, according to the Pentagon’s list of major contracts for that day. Under the Accelerated Extended Range contract, the company will retrofit new-build airframes with the tanks “as they come off the production line,” said Kasitz. The company is also developing a more radical new wing design to extend the Reaper’s range. It will “carry all the fuel inside the wing to eliminate the need for external fuel tanks,” cutting drag, she said. The 79-foot wing is “more than just an extension,” said Kasitz, noting that it’s actually “bigger in all dimensions.” Construction of the first retrofit wing and tail assembly is slated for the summer, said Kasitz. The company plans to fly the wing mod in tests by the end of the year.