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Eaglet Air-Launched Drone Aims To Help Its Mothership Survive In US Army Tests

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General Atomic's new air-launched drone, dubbed 'Eaglet,' is set for an Army demonstration this summer, a company official told The War Zone.

Eaglet is designed to be launched from either the company's MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER or MQ-9 Reaper. Though program work is still ongoing, its first flight is scheduled for later this year and General Atomics "will be demonstrating Eaglet for the U.S. Army this summer,” C. Mark Brinkley, Senior Director Strategic Communications & Marketing for General Atomics, Aeronautical Systems, or GA-ASI, told The War Zone Wednesday.
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The Eaglet on display at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa. (Howard Altman photo).

Brinkley on Wednesday also exclusively told The War Zone the name and specification details about the new drone, developed by General Atomics to keep its legacy unmanned aerial assets relevant in modern, contested airspace.
The vehicle - which General Atomics first disclosed the existence of last year - was on display in full-sized mockup form at the 2022 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, which began on Monday and wrapped up today.

The propeller-driven Eaglet weighs less than 200 pounds, has a span of 10.5 feet with its pop-out wings deployed, and can fly at a maximum airspeed of 115 knots with a range of about 700 kilometers (435 miles) or about eight hours with a payload of about 20 to 30 pounds. Its maximum service ceiling is about 15,000 feet.
The mock-up shows the same general layout as had been seen in artwork and smaller models that General Atomics has displayed in the past. It is now even more apparent that the design has at least some low observable (stealthy) features, with what appears to be a flush exhaust port on the top rear portion of the drone's body. What may be two air intakes are seen at the front on either side of the propeller shaft. A stealthy chined fuselage with sloped sides and v-tail round out the reduced signature design.
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A smaller model of the Eaglet, missing its propeller, seen at the Air Force Association's 2021 Air, Space & Cyber Conference. The top-mounted flush exhaust port is also visible here. (Joseph Trevithick photo)

Eaglet is one of the newest entries in General Atomics' Evolution Series of advanced UAS concepts, said Brinkley

The goal of Eaglet is to be able to allow the company’s now-vulnerable legacy drone fleet to continue providing reconnaissance and strike capabilities at a safe distance from enemy anti-access/area denial systems.

“It’s a survivable, air-launched effect (ALE) designed for use with the MQ-1C Gray Eagle ER or MQ-9 Reaper,” said Brinkley. “Eaglet provides capability for multispectral sensing and survivability on the future battlefield.”

For the better part of the past 20 years, America’s drone fleet has ruled the skies, raining down death and destruction, and soaking up intelligence largely unmolested because they were operating in permissible environments against adversaries with no air defenses or electronic warfare systems.

But those days are over and the U.S. military and defense contractors have been seeking new ways to continue to provide those capabilities while leveraging existing systems.

U.S. drones have been vulnerable for a while, even to non-state actors. In 2017, for instance, Yemen's Houthi rebels brought down a U.S. Air Force Reaper. You can read more about that incident, depicted in the video below, here.

 

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