General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Joins With NOAA and NASA to Help Bridge the Gap Between Earth and Science


Apr 20, 2005

Altair® Demonstration Marks Launch of First NOAA-funded UAV Earth Science Mission

PALMDALE, CA - 20 April 2005 - General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft surveillance systems, today marked the beginning of a “first of its kind” science mission with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA with a demonstration of the Altair remotely operated aircraft system at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility. The series of Altair flights, which will be conducted this spring off the coast of Southern California near the Channel Islands, will demonstrate the ability of remotely operated aircraft to conduct a variety of Earth Science missions, taking scientists to places they have never been before.

“This mission is truly historic in that it marks the first time that scientific payloads of this quality and complexity have been flown in a remotely operated aircraft system,” noted Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., president and chief executive officer of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

“Altair has proven its ability to perform long-endurance, high-altitude scientific missions in controlled airspace for NASA, and we look forward to continuing to demonstrate the strength of government agency-industry collaborations by adding NOAA as our new partner."

The goal of the NOAA/NASA Altair Mission is to demonstrate the operational capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft systems for science missions related to oceanic and atmospheric research, climate research, marine sanctuary mapping and enforcement, nautical charting, and fisheries assessment and enforcement. The Altair remotely piloted aircraft system will carry a payload of instruments for measuring ocean color, atmospheric composition and temperature, and surface imaging. Six flights totaling approximately 53 hours flight time will be flown at altitudes up to 45,000 feet and durations of up to 20 hours in late April and early May. For more information on the mission, please visit

"UAVs will allow us to see weather before it happens, detect toxins before we breathe them, and discover harmful and costly algal blooms before the fish do – and there is an urgency to more effectively address these issues," said Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

"NASA is glad to see that UAVs are being used for more and more diverse and important operations, and we’re looking forward to routine access to the National Airspace System that will allow UAVs to play an expanding role in Earth Science and other types of missions," said Terrence Hertz, deputy associate administrator for technology, NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

About Altair

Altair, a high-altitude version of Predator® B, was specifically designed as an unmanned platform for scientific and commercial research missions that require endurance, reliability and increased payload capacity. Built in partnership with NASA, Altair has an 86-foot wingspan, can fly up to 52,000 feet, and can remain airborne for well over 30 hours. Marked as the first remotely piloted aircraft that will meet aviation authority requirements for unmanned flights in National Air Space, Altair is configured with a fault-tolerant dual-architecture flight control system and triple redundant avionics for increased reliability. The aircraft will be integrated with an automated collision avoidance system, as well as an air traffic control voice relay that will increase responsiveness and communication for flights in National Air Space.

About GA-ASI

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of proven, reliable, unmanned aircraft systems for military and commercial applications worldwide. Established in 1993, the company has expanded the acceptance and application of unmanned aircraft systems with the combat-proven Army I-GNAT®, operational with the U.S. Army; Predator, which has accumulated more than 120,000 flight hours with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Italian Air Force; the turboprop powered Predator B MQ-9 “Hunter-Killer,” operational with the U.S. Air Force; and Altus® and Altair, operated in conjunction with NASA for scientific research, atmospheric monitoring, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. GA-ASI has also led the way in providing the war fighter with a weapons delivery capability on Predator and Predator B. The company is dedicated to providing long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft systems to meet demanding and diverse customer requirements. For more information, please visit

Altair, Predator, GNAT and Altus are registered trademarks of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

TV Editors: Interview segments and B-roll footage to support this release will be aired during the Video File feeds on NASA TV beginning on April 20th. NASA TV is available on the Web and via satellite in the continental U.S. on AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 9, 3880 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at 6.8 MHz. In Alaska and Hawaii, NASA TV is available on AMC-7, at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18, at 4060 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at 6.8 MHz. For NASA TV information and schedules, visit

For more information on the NOAA/NASA Altair Remotely Operated Aircraft Mission, contact:

Kimberly Kasitz
Public Relations Manager
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

Madelyn Appelbaum
NOAA Headquarters
+1 (202) 482-4858

Beth Hagenauer
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
+1 (661) 276-7960

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