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U.S. Air Force Begins Training on New MQ-9 Reaper Block 5

The latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper remotely pilot aircraft (RPA) and its new ground control station have arrived at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, home to the largest MQ-9 formal training unit in the U.S. Air Force.

Among enhancements, the MQ-9 Block 5 has an upgraded electrical power system that addresses a power loss issue that dogged older Block 1 models. Starter-generator failures in the older models caused the MQ-9 to drain its backup battery system; this resulted in the loss of 13 Reapers between April 2013 and December 2015, according to a Department of Defense selected acquisition report released in March 2016.

The Air Force’s MQ-9 program office established an electrical safety improvement program that produced a kit containing a direct drive brushless alternator—an electrical generator—that serves as a backup alternator to provide up to 10 additional hours of flight time if the aircraft’s starter-generator fails. The General Atomics-built MQ-9 Block 5 features a new high-capacity starter-generator and a backup generator in addition to battery backup for flight-control and other onboard systems.

The Block 5 aircraft charge batteries in flight,” said Kurtis, a captain with the 6th Attack Squadron, one of three RPA training squadrons assigned to the 49th Wing at Holloman AFB. (During a recent media visit there, airmen with RPA squadrons taped over their last names for security reasons.) “That was a deficiency with the Block 1 aircraft [for which] they did temporary fixes, but this essentially has a generator or an alternator that recharges your batteries in flight,” he explained. “Now your batteries stay fully charged throughout the duration of the mission.”

In late June, Creech AFB in Nevada announced that the Block 5 Reaper had flown its “first successful” combat mission on June 23 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria—a 16-hour sortie that included firing two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and a…

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