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AFA Winter 2019: New ground control station controls MQ-9 for the first time

The US Air Force’s (USAF’s) new Block 50 Ground Control Station (GCS) controlled a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the first time in January, according to a 26 February company statement.

The event took place from the GA-ASI Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in California. The Block 50 GCS cockpit for UAVs is designed with improved capabilities through an optimised human-machine interface (HMI), which significantly enhances aircrew situational awareness and allows for single-seat operations.

GA-ASI is developing its Block 50 Ground Control System (pictured) for the US Air Force. (GA-ASI)

GA-ASI is developing its Block 50 Ground Control System (pictured) for the US Air Force. (GA-ASI)

The GCS also integrates multilevel security feeds with onboard sensors to display a comprehensive picture of the battlespace, and incorporates improved information assurance capabilities that protect against cyber security risk. Both the Block 50 GCS and the MQ-9 Reaper are developed by GA-ASI.

GA-ASI said on 27 February that there are other versions of this GCS with different customers and requirements. The Certifiable GCS, for instance, flies the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, while other iterations of the GCS have flown every aircraft in the company’s fleet.

GA-ASI will deliver seven Block 50 GCSs to the USAF before May 2021, which is the end of the contract’s period of performance.

The design of the Block 50 GCS provides separation of flight-critical components to increase flight safety posture and enable rapid testing and integration of new mission capabilities. Other features include a ‘glass’ cockpit design, which reduces operator workload and increases effectiveness of mission execution through electronic checklists and integrated mission data information displays.

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