5GAT drone ready for first flight

The Fifth-Generation Aerial Target sits on the flightline at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, September 2020. (Photo provided)

The Fifth Generation Aerial Target will take its first flight later this month at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, following nearly flawless completion of ground-based testing in September.

After a multi-month delay due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, 5GAT finished a battery of ground test events at Michael Army Airfield on Sept. 18.

Executed by an integrated team of Defense Department personnel and contractors, the testing verified complete aircraft control, safety procedures and key performance milestones for takeoff and landing. The single prototype executed 24 taxi test events (15 low-speed and nine high-speed) in just six days, with no interruptions or major problems.

The office of the director of operational test and evaluation sponsors the 5GAT, which is a full-scale, low-observable air vehicle that represents, more accurately than anything else available, the fifth-generation fighter aircraft threats U.S. forces could face. The low-cost drone is designed to enable air-to-air and surface-to-air platform and weapons test and evaluation, pilot and ground-force training, and the development of tactics, techniques and procedures against a fifth-generation threat.

“To determine whether a system really is combat-credible, we must test it under realistic conditions. That includes putting it up against a realistic threat,” said Robert Behler, the director of operational test and evaluation. “Right now, we lack a test platform that truly represents fifth-generation air capabilities. Filling that gap as soon as possible is absolutely essential to both testing and training.”

Sierra Technical Services, prime contractor, has taken an innovative approach to building 5GAT, constructing the airframe from composites using soft tooling to reduce cost. The subcontractor Fast Optimal Engineering designed major subsystem solutions, including flight control actuation, electrical power, hydraulics, landing gear and steering. The subcontractor 5D Systems was responsible for developing the unmanned 5GAT’s complex suite of software. 5GAT utilizes engines and other elements harvested from decommissioned DOD military aircraft, as well as an existing U.S. Army ground-based aircraft control system.

Flight testing will begin in late October. Initial flight test objectives include demonstrating 5GAT flight characteristics, various subsystems’ performance and the aircraft’s auto-takeoff and auto-landing functionality. Subsequent flight tests will progressively expand the aircraft’s flight envelope in altitude, speed and greater G-force loading.

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