General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. announced the first flight of an improved, Predator-style remotely piloted aircraft for the U.S. Army market.

The Poway company said it flew the aircraft July 26 at its test facility in the Mojave Desert.

The aircraft, dubbed Improved Gray Eagle, would be able to carry 50 percent greater payload than the current Gray Eagle.

If equipped for reconnaissance, it would have 23 additional hours of flight time, the builder said.

A company representative said its U.S. Army customer expressed an interest in more endurance, so GA-ASI spent internal research and development funds to develop the aircraft. The representative added that the company is on contract with the Army for an endurance demonstration later this year.

An upgraded centerline hard point on the aircraft would support integration of a 500-pound optional external fuel tank or 360 degree sensor payload.

The aircraft can carry Hellfire missiles.

The new aircraft is a variant of the Block 1 Gray Eagle, which has accumulated more than 70,000 flight hours since 2008.

— SDBJ Staff Report