Taking Reaper Farther

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is under contract to provide the Air Force with “a limited number of kits” to extend the flight endurance of MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, said Frank Pace, president of the company’s Aircraft Systems Group. The kits add two external fuel pods to the Reaper, stretching its in-flight time by “an extra seven, eight hours,” said Pace. With the kits, the Reaper can fly about 35 hours for information-gathering missions when the vehicle isn’t carrying weapons, he said during an interview at last week’s Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France. “With the [US military’s] pivot to the Pacific, that extra endurance can be really crucial,” said Pace. The company unveiled this modification option in April 2012, along with a second upgrade to replace the Reaper’s current 66-feet wings with 88-foot wings. The latter option, together with the fuel pods, would extend the Reaper’s endurance out to 42 hours. “With the new wings, even if you are carrying weapons, your endurance will go up by several hours,” said Pace. The company is not yet under contract for the new wings. “We are working that on our own money. . . . We are not waiting for a contract,” he said during the June 18 interview.