MQ-1 Predator UAS: Aircraft profile
The MQ-1 Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft system.
The MQ-1's primary mission is interdiction and conducting armed reconnaissance against critical, perishable targets. When the MQ-1 is not actively pursuing its primary mission, it acts as the Joint Forces Air Component Commander-owned theater asset for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of the Joint Forces commander.
The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. A fully operational system consists of four aircraft (with sensors), a ground control station, a Predator Primary Satellite Link, or PPSL, along with operations and maintenance crews for deployed 24-hour operations.
The basic crew for the Predator is one pilot and two sensor operators. They fly the aircraft from inside the ground control station via a line-of-sight data link or a satellite data link for beyond line-of-sight flight. The aircraft is equipped with a color nose camera (generally used by the pilot for flight control), a day variable-aperture TV camera, a variable-aperture infrared camera (for low light/night), and other sensors as the mission requires. The cameras produce full-motion video.
The MQ-1 Predator carries the Multi-spectral Targeting System which integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package. The aircraft can employ two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles.
The system is composed of four major components which can be deployed for worldwide operations. The Predator aircraft can be disassembled and loaded into a "coffin." The ground control system is transportable in a C-130 Hercules (or larger) transport aircraft or installed in a fixed facility. The Predator can operate on a 5,000 by 75 feet (1,524 meters by 23 meters), hard surface runway with clear line-of-sight. The ground data terminal antenna provides line-of-sight communications for takeoff and landing. The PPSL provides over-the-horizon communications for the aircraft.
An alternate method of employment, Remote Split Operations, employs a smaller version of the ground control system called the Launch and Recovery GCS, or LRGCS. This sytsem conducts takeoff and landing operations at the forward deployed location while the CONUS based ground control system conducts the mission via extended communication links.
The aircraft includes an ARC-210 radio, an APX-100 IFF/SIF with Mode 4, an upgraded turbo-charged engine and glycol-weeping "wet wings" for ice mitigation. The latest upgrade, which enhances maintenance and performance, includes notched tails, split engine cowling, steel braided hoses and improved engine blocks.
The "M" is the Department of Defense designation for multi-role and "Q" means unmanned aircraft system. The "1" refers to the aircraft being the first of a series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems.
The Predator system was designed in response to a Department of Defense requirement to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to the warfighter.
In April 1996, the secretary of defense selected the U.S. Air Force as the operating service for the RQ-1 Predator system. A change in designation from "RQ-1" to "MQ-1" occurred in 2002 with the addition of the armed reconnaissance role.
Operational squadrons are the 15th and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The 11th RS provides provides formal upgrade training also at Creech AFB.
Primary Function: Armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance and target acquisition
Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated
Power Plant: Rotax 914F four cylinder engine
Thrust: 115 horsepower
Wingspan: 48.7 feet (14.8 meters)
Length: 27 feet (8.22 meters)
Height: 6.9 feet (2.1 meters)
Weight: 1,130 pounds ( 512 kilograms) empty
Maximum takeoff weight: 2,250 pounds (1,020 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 665 pounds (100 gallons)
Payload: 450 pounds (204 kilograms)
Speed: Cruise speed around 84 mph (70 knots), up to 135 mph
Range: up to 400 nautical miles (454 miles)
Ceiling: up to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters)
Armament: two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
Crew (remote): Two (pilot and sensor operator)
Initial operational capability: March 2005
Unit Cost: $30.5 million (fiscal 1997 dollars) (includes 4 aircraft, ground control stations, and Predator Primary Satellite Link)
Inventory: Active force, 110; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0
The Predator system was initially designated the RQ-1 Predator. The "R" is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and the "Q" refers to an unmanned aircraft system. The "1" describes it as being the first of a series of aircraft systems built for unmanned reconnaissance. Pre-production systems were designated as RQ-1A, while the RQ-1B (not to be confused with the RQ-1 Predator B, which became the MQ-9 Reaper) denotes the baseline production configuration. It should be emphasized that these are designations of the system as a unit. The actual aircraft themselves were designated RQ-1K for pre-production models, and RQ-1L for production models. In 2005, the Air Force officially changed the designation to MQ-1 (the "M" designates multi-role) to reflect its growing use as an armed aircraft.
The CIA and the Pentagon had each been experimenting with reconnaissance drones since the early 1980s. The CIA preferred small, lightweight, unobtrusive drones, in contrast to the USAF. In the early 1990s the agency became interested in the "Amber", a drone developed by Abraham Karem and his company, Leading Systems Inc.. Karem was the former chief designer for the Israeli Air Force, and had migrated to the United States in the late 1970s. Karem's company had since gone bankrupt and been bought up by a US defense contractor. The CIA secretly bought five drones (now called the "Gnat") from them. Karem agreed to produce a quiet engine, which until then sounded like "a lawnmower in the sky". The new development became known as the "Predator".
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems was awarded a contract to develop the Predator in January 1994, and the initial Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) phase lasted from January 1994 to June 1996. The aircraft itself was a derivative of the GA Gnat 750 UAV. During the ACTD phase, three systems were purchased from GA, comprising twelve aircraft and three ground control stations.
From April through May, 1995, the Predator ACTD aircraft were flown as a part of the Roving Sands 1995 exercises in the U.S. The exercise operations were successful, and this led to the decision to deploy the system to the Balkans later in the summer of 1995.
Cost for an early production Predator was about $3.2 million USD.
The CIA arranged for Air Force teams trained by the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to fly the agency's Predators. "First in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, CIA officers began to see the first practical returns ..."
By the time of the Afghan campaign, the Air Force had acquired 60 Predators, and lost 20 of them in action. Few if any of the losses were from enemy action, the worst problem apparently being foul weather, particularly icy conditions. Some critics within the Pentagon saw the high loss rate as a sign of poor operational procedures. In response to the losses caused by cold weather flight conditions, a few of the later Predators obtained by the USAF were fitted with deicing systems, along with an uprated turbocharged engine and improved avionics. This improved "Block 1" version was referred to as the "RQ-1B", or the "MQ-1B" if it carried munitions; the corresponding air vehicle designation was "RQ-1L" or "MQ-1L".
Command and sensor systems
During the campaign in the former Yugoslavia, a Predator's pilot would sit with several payload specialists in a van near the runway of the drone's operating base. (In its Balkan operation, the CIA secretly flew Predators out of Hungary and Albania.) Direct radio signals controlled the drone's takeoff and initial ascent. Then communications shifted to military satellite networks linked to the pilot's van. Pilots experienced a delay of several seconds between tugging their joysticks and the drone's response. But by 2000,
improvements in communications systems [perhaps by use of the USAF's JSTARS system] now made it possible, at least in theory, to fly the drone remotely from great distances. It was no longer necessary to use close-up radio signals during the Predator's takeoff and ascent. The entire flight could be controlled by satellite from any command center with the right equipment. The CIA proposed to attempt over Afghanistan the first fully remote Predator flight operations, piloted from [the agency's headquarters at] Langley.
The Predator air vehicle and sensors are controlled from the ground station via a C-band line-of-sight data link or a Ku-band satellite data link for beyond-line-of-sight operations. During flight operations the crew in the ground control station is a pilot and two sensor operators. The aircraft is equipped with Multi-spectral Targeting System, a color nose camera (generally used by the pilot for flight control), a variable aperture day-TV camera, and a variable aperture infrared camera (for low light/night). Previously, Predators were equipped with a synthetic aperture radar for looking through smoke, clouds or haze, but lack of use validated its removal to reduce weight. The cameras produce full motion video and the synthetic aperture radar produced still frame radar images. There is sufficient bandwidth on the datalink for two video sources to be used at one time, but only one video source from the sensor ball can be used at any time due to design limitations. Either the daylight variable aperture or the infrared electro-optical sensor may be operated simultaneously with the synthetic aperture radar, if equipped.
All Predators are equipped with a laser designator that allows the pilot to identify targets for other aircraft and even provide the laser-guidance for manned aircraft. This laser is also the designator for the AGM-114 Hellfire that are carried on the MQ-1.
Each Predator air vehicle can be disassembled into six main components and loaded into a container nicknamed "the coffin." This enables all system components and support equipment to be rapidly deployed worldwide. The largest component is the ground control station and it is designed to roll into a C-130 Hercules. The Predator primary satellite link consists of a 6.1 meter (20 ft) satellite dish and associated support equipment. The satellite link provides communications between the ground station and the aircraft when it is beyond line-of-sight and is a link to networks that disseminate secondary intelligence. The RQ-1A system needs 1,500 by 40 meters (5,000 by 125 ft) of hard surface runway with clear line-of-sight to each end from the ground control station to the air vehicles. Initially, all components needed be located on the same airfield.
Currently, the US Air Force uses a concept called "Remote-Split Operations" where the satellite datalink is located in a different location and is connected to the GCS through fiber optic cabling. This allows Predators to be launched and recovered by a small "Launch and Recovery Element" and then handed off to a "Mission Control Element" for the rest of the flight. This allows a smaller number of troops to be deployed to a forward location, and consolidates control of the different flights in one location.
The improvements in the MQ-1B production version include an ARC-210 radio, an APX-100 IFF/SIF with mode 4, a glycol-weeping “wet wings” ice mitigation system, up-graded turbo-charged engine, fuel injection, longer wings, dual alternators as well as other improvements.
On 18 May 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a certificate of authorization which will allow the M/RQ-1 and M/RQ-9 aircraft to be used within U.S. civilian airspace to search for survivors of disasters. Requests had been made in 2005 for the aircraft to be used in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina, but because there was no FAA authorization in place at the time, the assets were not used. The Predator's infrared camera with digitally-enhanced zoom has the capability of identifying the heat signature of a human body from an altitude of 3 km (10,000 ft), making the aircraft an ideal search and rescue tool.
The longest known Predator flight was 40 hours, 5 minutes.
Armed version development
The Air Force handed the Predator over to the service's Big Safari office after the Kosovo campaign in order to accelerate tests of the UAV in a strike role, fitted with reinforced wings and stores pylons to carry munitions, as well as a laser target designator. This effort led to a series of tests, on February 21, 2001, in which the Predator fired three Hellfire anti-armor missiles, scoring hits on a stationary tank with all three missiles. The scheme was put into service, with the armed Predators given the new designation of MQ-1A. Given that a Predator is very unobtrusive and the Hellfire is supersonic, such a combination gives little warning of attack.
In the winter of 2000-2001, after seeing the results of Predator reconnaissance in Afghanistan (see below), Cofer Black, head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC), became a "vocal advocate" of arming the Predator with missiles to target Osama bin Laden in the country. He also believed that CIA pressure and practical interest was causing the USAF's armed Predator program to be significantly accelerated. Black, and "Richard", who was in charge of the CTC's Bin Laden Issue Station, continued to press during 2001 for a Predator armed with Hellfire missiles.
Further weapons tests occurred between May 22 and June 7, 2001, with mixed results. While missile accuracy was excellent, there were some problems with missile fusing ..." In the first week of June, in the Nevada Desert, a Hellfire missile was successfully launched on a replica of bin Laden's Afghanistan Tarnak residence. A missile launched from a Predator exploded inside one of the replica's rooms; it was concluded that any people in the room would have been killed. However, the armed Predator did not go into action before 9/11.
The Air Force has also investigated using the Predator to drop battlefield ground sensors, and to carry and deploy the "Finder" mini-UAV. NASA and NPGS unarmed research versions
Two unarmed versions, known as the General Atomics ALTUS were built, ALTUS I for the Naval Postgraduate School and ALTUS II for the NASA ERAST Project in 1997 and 1996, respectively.
The U.S. Army selected the MQ-1C Warrior as the winner of the Extended-Range Multi-Purpose UAV competition August 2005, and the type is due to become operational in 2009.
Squadrons and operational units
During the initial ACTD phase, the United States Army led the evaluation program, but in April 1996, the Secretary of Defense selected the U.S. Air Force as the operating service for the RQ-1A Predator system. The 11th, 15th, and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons, Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, and the Air National Guard's 163d Reconnaissance Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, currently operate the MQ-1 (see below).
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Defense recommended retiring Ellington Field's 147th Fighter Wing's F-16 Falcon fighter jets (a total of 15 aircraft), which was approved by the Base Realignment and Closure committee. They will be replaced with 12 MQ-1 Predator UAVs, and the new unit should be fully equipped and outfitted by 2009 . The wing's combat support arm will remain intact. The 272nd Engineering Installation Squadron, an Air National Guard unit currently located off-base, will move into Ellington Field in its place.
A report in March 2007 indicated that U.S. Air Force had lost 53 of the 139 Predators that were delivered.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is operating an unknown number of Predators.
The first overseas deployment was to the Balkans, from July to November 1995, under the name Nomad Vigil. Operations were based in Gjader, Albania. Several Predators were lost during Nomad Vigil.
* One aircraft (serial 95-3017) was lost on April 18, 1999, following fuel system problems and icing.
* A second aircraft (serial 95-3019) was lost on May 13, when it was shot down by a Serbian Strela-1M surface-to-air missile over the village of Biba. A Serbian TV crew videotaped this incident.
* A third aircraft (serial number 95-3021) crashed on May 20 near the town of Talinovci, and Serbian news reported that this, too, was the result of anti-aircraft fire. Afghanistan
In 2000 a joint CIA-Pentagon effort was agreed to locate Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Dubbed "Afghan Eyes", it involved a projected 60-day trial run of Predators over the country. The first experimental flight was held on September 7, 2000. White House security chief Richard A. Clarke was impressed by the resulting video footage; he hoped that the drones might eventually be used to target Bin Laden with cruise missiles or armed aircraft. Clarke's enthusiasm was matched by that of Cofer Black, head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC), and Charles Allen, in charge of the CIA's intelligence-collection operations. The three men backed an immediate trial run of reconnaissance flights. Ten out of the ensuing 15 Predator missions over Afghanistan were rated successful. On at least two flights, a Predator spotted a tall man in white robes at bin Laden's Tarnak Farm compound outside Kandahar; the figure was subsequently deemed to be "probably bin Laden".
"A large video screen loomed in the middle of the CIA's makeshift flight operations center. Air Force drone pilots and CIA officers from the Counterterrorist Center and the CTC's bin Laden unit huddled in the darkened room in the wooded Langley campus from midnight to dawn". But by mid-October, deteriorating weather conditions made it difficult for the Predator to fly from its base in Uzbekistan, and the run of flights was suspended.
It was hoped to resume flights in spring 2001, but debates about the use of an armed Predator (see above) delayed a restart. Only on September 4, 2001 (after the Bush cabinet approved a Qaeda/Taliban plan) did CIA chief Tenet order the agency to resume reconnaissance flights. The Predators were now weapons-capable, but didn't carry missiles because the host country (presumably Uzbekistan) hadn't granted permission.
Subsequent to 9/11, approval was quickly granted to ship the missiles, and the Predator aircraft and missiles reached their overseas location on September 16, 2001. The first mission was flown over Kabul and Kandahar on September 18 without carrying weapons. Subsequent host nation approval was granted on October 7 and the first armed mission was flown on the same day.
* On February 4, 2002, an armed Predator attacked a convoy of sport utility vehicles, killing a suspected al Qaeda leader. The intelligence community initially expressed doubt that he was Osama bin Laden.
* On March 4, 2002, a CIA-operated Predator fired a Hellfire missile into a reinforced al Qaeda machine gun bunker that had pinned down an Army Ranger team whose CH-47 Chinook had crashed on the top of Takur Ghar Mountain in Afghanistan. Previous attempts by flights of F-15 and F-16 aircraft were unable to destroy the bunker. This action took place during what has become known as the "Battle of Robert's Ridge", a part of Operation Anaconda. This appears to be the first use of such a weapon in a close air support role. Pakistan
* On May 13, 2005, Haitham al-Yemeni, an al Qaeda explosives expert from Yemen, was killed in a village in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border by a CIA-operated MQ-1 Predator aircraft firing a Hellfire missile.
* On December 3, 2005, a US Predator UAV reportedly killed Al Qaeda #3 Chief Abu Hamza Rabia in his sleep in Haisori, Pakistan. Four others were also killed.
* On January 13, 2006, several US Predators conducted an airstrike on Damadola village in Pakistan where al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri was reportedly located. CIA Predators reportedly fired 10 missiles killing 18 civilians, including five women and five children. According to Pakistani authorities, the U.S. strike was based on faulty intelligence and al-Zawahiri was not present in the village. Pakistani officials nevertheless claimed that Midhat Mursi (Abu Khabab al-Masri) — al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert, Khalid Habib — the al Qaeda operations chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Abdul Rehman al Magrabi — a senior operations commander for al Qaeda were all killed in the Damadola attack. U.S. and Pakistani officials now say that none of those al Qaeda leaders perished in the strike and that only local villagers were killed.
* On October 30, 2006, the Bajaur airstrike was conducted, targeting an alleged militant training camp and targeting al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The strike hit a religious school where militants were believed to be present. Eyewitness reports said that two explosions were heard following a missile being fired from an MQ-1 Predator. Pakistani intelligence officials have told western media that Predators were used in the strike, which utilized Hellfire missiles. Although Zawahiri does not appear to have been caught in the strike, Pakistani officials have stated that between two and five senior al Qaeda fighters, including the mastermind of the airliners plot in the UK, were killed in the raid. While some reports state that the school was a religious training center, Pakistani authorities, including President Musharraf, have stated that the school provided military training to al Qaeda militants. Casualty figures range from 80 to 85 people killed.
* On January 29, 2008 an MQ-1B killed Abu Laith al-Libi in Mir Ali.
* Images published recently by the Pakistan Army shows that the USA delivered some MQ-1 Predators to Pakistan.
* Al-Qaeda chief dies in missile airstrike The Guardian June 1, 2008 see Damadola airstrike
* US Releases Video of Clash Along Pakistan VOA News 12 June 2008
* Pakistan Angry as Strike by U.S. Kills 11 Soldiers NY Times June 12, 2008
* U.S. Military Releases Video Footage of Airstrike in Pakistan Washington Post June 12, 2008
* CIA given green light to bomb Osama bin Laden Telegraph.co.uk 2 July 2008
* First confrontation with Pakistani Jets.MQ-1 had to RTB after Pakistani Jets were scrambled.
* A UAV crash landed in the area of angoor adda,which has been area of constant American activity.Local tribesmen picked up the wreckage and handed over the security forces.Pentagon denies this.
* On November 3, 2002, a CIA Predator (being flown by an Air Force pilot from a French military base, Camp Lemonier, in Djibouti) was again used in a military strike. A Hellfire missile was fired at a car in Yemen, killing Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, an al-Qaeda leader thought to be responsible for the USS Cole bombing. It was the first direct US strike in the War on Terrorism outside Afghanistan.
* Steve Scher on Weekday – February 23, 2007 KUOW-FM interviews James Bamford on the National Security Agency (Note: minutes 21–24 of 54 minute audio)
An MQ-1B Predator unmanned aircraft from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off July 9 from Ali Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
An MQ-1B Predator unmanned aircraft from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off July 9 from Ali Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
* An Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a Predator performing reconnaissance over the no fly zone in Iraq on December 23, 2002, after the Predator fired a missile at it. This was the first time in history a conventional aircraft and a drone had engaged in combat. Predators had been armed with AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles, and were being used to "bait" Iraqi fighter planes, then run. In this incident, the Predator didn't run, but instead fired one of the Stingers. The Stinger's heat-seeker became "distracted" by the MiG's missile and so missed the MiG, and the Predator was destroyed.
* During the initial phases of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a number of older Predators were stripped down and used as decoys to entice Iraqi air defenses to expose themselves by firing.
* From July 2005 to June 2006, the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron participated in more than 242 separate raids, engaged 132 troops in contact-force protection actions, fired 59 Hellfire missiles; surveyed 18,490 targets, escorted four convoys, and flew 2,073 sorties for more than 33,833 flying hours. Others
Since the end of 2004 it is also used by the Italian Air Force and since 2006 by the Royal Air Force. Two civil-registered unarmed MQ-1s are operated by the Office of the National Security Advisor in the Philippines since 2006.
More photos: MQ-1 Predator UAS photo gallery
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