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MQ-1 Predator UAV

The MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated primarily by the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Developed by General Atomics, the Predator is remotely operated as a Tier II medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) craft for reconnaissance and forward observation. The Predator can travel up to 400 nautical miles to its destination, where it can then loiter for over 12 hours at altitudes of up to 25,000 feet. The Predator entered serviced in the 1990s, flying more than 600 missions in 1995 alone. It saw action in Bosnia and Serbia in the 1990s, then in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 11 September 1991 terrorist attacks. The Predator is the first UAV to fire offensive weapons against enemy combat forces, using Hellfire missiles against ground and air targets. The Predator's role in CIA operations is classified, and therefore precise information about its use in intelligence-gathering and offensive actions is limited.

RQ-1 Predator UAV from the 432nd Wing, Creech Air Force Base, NV, takes off from Aeropuerto Rafael Hernandez outside Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, 28 January 2010
RQ-1 Predator UAV from the 432nd Wing, Creech Air Force Base, NV, takes off from Aeropuerto Rafael Hernandez outside Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, 28 January 2010.

Today in WW II: 20 May 1940 German General Rudolf Veiel's 2nd Panzer division reaches the English Channel at Noyelles, splitting the Allied defense.  More 
20 May 1940 Largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, opens in Poland. Before liberation in 1945, about 1.1 million people died there, 90 percent Jews.
20 May 1941 Germans launch Operation Mercury, the Battle of Crete, the first airborne invasion in history.
20 May 1942 First African-American seamen taken into the United States Navy.
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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): MQ-1 Predator Development

The Pentagon and the CIA became interested in remote-piloted reconnaissance drones in the 1980s. Unlike the Air Force, the CIA wanted small, lightweight drones, and found a suitable model in a drone developed by Leading Systems, Inc. The company, however, had gone bankrupt and been bought by a U.S. defense contractor. The CIA secretly purchased five such drones, with a quieter engine added by Leading Systems' former owner and chief designer, Abraham Karem.

This new drone was named the "Predator," and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego received a contract to develop it in January 1994. The Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) phase continued until June 1996, with the first Predator flying in July 1994. The Predator ATCD drones were tested during the Roving Sands 1995 exercises. Their success led to deployment in operations over Bosnia from July 1995 through March 1996.

The CIA purchased three unmanned aerial systems (UAS), consisting of twelve drones and three ground control stations. Exact mission profiles are classified.

In April 1996 the Secretary of Defense chose the Air Force as the service that would operate Predators. The Predator system was at first given the designation "RQ-1," where the "R" stands for reconnaissance and the "Q" refers to a UAV. The "1" meant the Predator was the first of an eventual series of such systems. On 1 February 2002 the Air Force changed the Predator's designation to "MQ-1," where the "M" stands for "multi-role," because of the Predator's added laser designation and missile firing capability.

The Predator nomenclature is further divided into the RQ-1A, representing pre-production systems, and the RQ-1B, representing production systems. These designations refer to the entire unmanned aerial system. The designation RQ-1K refers to a preproduction Predator drone, and the RQ-1L to a production drone. The same distinction remains in force for the "M" variants of the Predator. Also, the RQ-1 Predator B is a separate drone, now known as the MQ-9 Reaper.

The powerplant of the Predator is a 105-horsepower Rotax 914 engine. The Predator takes off and lands on a 5,000 by 75 foot hard-surface runway using tricycle landing gear. The Predator can be disassembled and transported with its ground control station via a C-130 Hercules or larger transport craft.

The Predator has two electro-optical (EO) cameras and one infrared (IR) camera for nighttime use. These imaging systems sit in a spherical gimbal turret visible under the UAV's nose. Newer Predators have the Multi-Spectral Targeting System (MTS) sensor ball, which includes a laser designator.

The Predator also carries synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to counter bad weather. Onboard satellite communications equipment allows for operation beyond line-of-sight, with the ground control station located on a different continent from the one where the Predator is operating. Some Predator drones are capable of launching smaller UAVs, such as the 57-lb. Finder UAV. Predators can also be equipped with sensors to detect dangerous chemicals in the air.

In early 2001 General Atomics added air-to-ground missiles on some Predators. The missile chosen is the Hellfire (AGM-114K Hellfire II). In February 2001 a Predator MQ-1A successfully test-fired a laser-guided Hellfire at a stationary target. Later that year the Predator fired Hellfire missiles at targets in Afghanistan.

The Predator drone is operated from a ground control station (GCS) as part of an unmanned aerial system (UAS). The GCS consists of a large trailer with two 20-inch color television screens. The upper screen displays a map of the target area, and the lower screen shows the view from the drone's nose camera as well as flight instrument readings.

The GCS crew consists of a drone pilot, who operates the Predator using a standard stick and throttle arrangement, as well as two or three sensor operators, who monitor the drone's onboard sensor systems.

The GCS communicates with the drones under its control via the Trojan Spirit II satellite system. Two satellite dishes are mounted on the trailer, allowing the GCS crew to not only control the drone but also send imagery it captures to anyplace in the world.

In August 2005, the U.S. Army selected the Predator variant known as the MQ-1C Grey Eagle as the winner in the Extended-Range Multi-Purpose UAV competition.

The Predator is operated by the 15th and 17th Reconnaissance Squadrons (RS) at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The 11th RS at Creech AFB serves as the Formal Training Unit (FTU), with the 6th RS at Holloman AFB in New Mexico acting as a second. The Air Force Reserve Command operates the 78th RS at Creech, and the Air National Guard runs the 11th RS in Texas, the 178th in North Dakota, the 196th RS in California, and the 214th RS in Arizona.

Over 100 Predators have been built and deployed as of 2011, with the exact number unknown due to the drone's classified activities with the CIA. NASA now operates Predators for scientific endeavors as well. The Predator is slated to be replaced by the MQ-9 Reaper.

MQ-1 Predator Operational History

The Predator made its debut in Bosnia in 1995, where it fulfilled a reconnaissance role. During Operation Allied Force in 1999, the Predator relayed video feeds to forward air controllers (FACs) to facilitate better target acquisition.

The Predators joined Operation Southern Watch over Iraq to enforce the no-fly zone there. On 23 December 2002 a Predator engaged an Iraqi MiG, firing at it before being destroyed. Predators also destroyed Iraqi mobile radar units using Hellfire missiles.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the Air Force operated the Predator to spy on the Iraqi military and undertake airstrikes. Predator drones also served as decoys to confuse the Iraqi military.

In Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the Predator became a part of netcentric warfare, using its laser designator to locate targets for F/A-18 Hornets. Central Command equipped AC-130 gunships with terminals so crews could view Predator video directly in their aircraft.

As a part of the War on Terror, a CIA Predator fired Hellfire missiles in Yemen on 3 November 2002, killing Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, a senior Al Qaeda operative. This was the first direct U.S. attack in the War on Terror outside of Afghanistan.

The Air Force deployed Predators for reconnaissance and strike mission in Operation Unified Protector. On 23 April 2011 a Predator MQ-1B fired its first Hellfire missile.

Characteristics of the MQ-1 Predator

PayloadEO-IR cameras, SAR and laser designation in later models
BombloadTwo Hellfire II missiles (one under each wing)
EngineRotax 914 four-cylinder gasoline engine at 105hp
Maximum speed135 mph
Cruising speed84 mph
Range40 hours flight time
Ceiling25,000 ft.
Span48.7 ft.
Length27 ft.
Height6.9 ft..
Weight950 lbs. empty

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Creech Air Force Base, NV, 11 May 2010, for a training sortie over the Nevada desert
MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Creech Air Force Base, NV, 11 May 2010, for a training sortie over the Nevada desert.

Predator unmanned aerial vehicle from the Medium Altitude Endurance Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration
Predator unmanned aerial vehicle from the Medium Altitude Endurance Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration.

USAF A1C Caleb Force, right, an MQ-1 Predator UAV sensor operator, assists 1LT Jorden Smith, an MQ-1 pilot, in locating simulated targets during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base, NV, 22 April 2009. Both are assigned to the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron
USAF A1C Caleb Force, right, an MQ-1 Predator UAV sensor operator, assists 1LT Jorden Smith, an MQ-1 pilot, in locating simulated targets during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base, NV, 22 April 2009. Both are assigned to the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron.

MQ-1B Predator aircraft from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Balad Air Base in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 12 June 2008
MQ-1B Predator aircraft from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Balad Air Base in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 12 June 2008.

CPT Jeremy Fortier, 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron, poses in front of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system after he completed training to pilot the UAV, Tinker AFB, OK, 29 October 2009. A navigator by trade, he is one of the first eight non-pilots to earn Remote Pilot Vehicle pilot wings
CPT Jeremy Fortier, 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron, poses in front of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft system after he completed training to pilot the UAV, Tinker AFB, OK, 29 October 2009. A navigator by trade, he is one of the first eight non-pilots to earn Remote Pilot Vehicle pilot wings.

Recommended Books about the MQ-1 Predator and UAVs

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