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Pelican First Flight as a UAV at El Mirage

Pelican First Flight as a UAV at El Mirage

Photo US Navy

San Diego, California -- (GA-ASI) December 21, 1998 --. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft surveillance systems, announced today that the Pelican optionally piloted aircraft flew for the first time on December 10th as an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) under the control of a pilot in a ground control station (GCS). Pelican is a heavily-modified Cessna aircraft integrated with GA-ASI's proven UAV avionics to enable the aircraft to fly either manned or unmanned missions. During this recent flight, Pelican took off from GA-ASI's Flight Operations Center in El Mirage, Calif. under the control of the onboard pilot. Control of the aircraft was then passed to the pilot in the GA-ASI-supplied GCS where system monitoring and flight control were maintained. Pelican was then landed under the control of the onboard pilot. Managed by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., the Pelican program is operated through CIRPAS, the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies.

On March 4, 1996, CIRPAS awarded GA-ASI a contract to modify an aircraft to perform either manned or unmanned missions. Using a CIRPAS-purchased Cessna 337 Skymaster, GA-ASI began modifying the aircraft to carry its own proven avionics used on all GA-ASI-manufactured UAVs including Predator and GNAT. In its current configuration, the Pelican optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) can be flown with an onboard pilot, or, as recently demonstrated, by a pilot on the ground in the GCS through a line-of-sight datalink. Plans to improve the performance and versatility of Pelican include fitting it with an electro-optical (EO/IR) sensor payload to allow it to act as a true surveillance UAV. In addition, the Pelican OPV will be upgraded to perform at altitudes of 25,000 feet in order to support UAV payload test and evaluations, software validation and sensor tests in airspace restricted for manned aircraft only.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. is a world leader in the development and manufacturing of state-of-the-art unmanned airborne surveillance systems. GA-ASI's GNAT&trade and Predator® surveillance systems offer flight-proven performance and versatility backed by extensive operational and real-world deployment experience. Predators are operated and maintained by the USAF's 11th and 15th Reconnaissance Squadrons. GA-ASI also manufactures the ALTUS® high altitude research aircraft and the Prowler II&trade tactical unmanned aircraft for army users worldwide.

Contact: Cyndi Wegerbauer (619) 455-2294 wegerb@gat.com or Doug Fouquet (619) 455-2173


The CIRPAS is a Navy organization providing UAV flight services, dedicated to customer support during the development, testing, and evaluation of UAV technologies, associated payloads and UAV system operational capabilities.

Note about the Pelican: The Pelican is a long-endurance, optionally-piloted aircraft designed to perform low-altitude atmospheric and oceanographic research and technology development. The vehicle is a highly modified Cessna 337 Skymaster twin-engine, centerline-thrust airframe with the forward engine eliminated. The Pelican will function as a manned or unmanned sensor platform with the installation of the Predator UAV flight control package to be completed in Summer 1998.

Characteristics of Pelican include:

  • Optionally Onboard/Remote Piloting
  • Distributed Real-Time Data Access
  • Large Payload (150kg nose, 50kg wings)
  • 1.2kW Payload Power
  • Diverse Payload (chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, remote sensing, etc.)
  • 24 Hour Missions (remote)
  • Low Altitude (~50-100 ft minimum)
  • Speed Range of 80-130 KIAS

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).