Published: 1 January 2009
Air & Space Power Journal - Espaņol  Cuarto  Trimestre 2008

MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aircraft System


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.

General Characteristics

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

Point of Contact

Air Combat Command, Public Affairs Office; 130 Andrews St., Suite 202; Langley AFB, VA 23665-1987; DSN 574-5007 or 757-764-5007; e-mail:

Source: US Air Force, September 2008

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