Taking unmanned flight to the next level

By Donald DixonJuly 11, 2023

Eaglet safely separates from under the wing of Gray Eagle.
Eaglet safely separates from under the wing of Gray Eagle. (Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy General Atomics) VIEW ORIGINAL

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah — Unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, such as the Gray Eagle program have been an indispensable part of the U.S. Army’s mission capabilities for more than a decade. While a UAS can run operations without putting a Soldier at risk, there are still some moments where the risk is too high even for these machines. That’s where newer and smaller technology comes into play.

General Atomics, the minds behind the Gray Eagle, has been collaborating with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command to develop a new Enhanced Air and Ground Launch Effect Technology, or EAGLET, demonstrator which recently ran a series of captive carry and free-flight tests at Dugway Proving Ground.

The EAGLET is intended to be a low-cost, survivable UAS that can be launched from the ground or from the air utilizing the Gray Eagle. “The Gray Eagle platform is going to stand-off more from the threat and have longer-range sensors on it, whereas the Air Launch Effect (ALE) EAGLET-type class would be able to fly in closer,” explains General Atomics Test Engineer Tom Velky. “Because of its lower cost you’re going to be willing to take more risk with an EAGLET ALE-type aircraft than you would with a group 5 like Gray Eagle.”

This most-recent phase of testing was to explore stability and control of the new platform. Velky says their goal is to “show that it flies as we expected. It flies like an aircraft should and it can be maneuvered and brought in for a stable approach and landing as well.” The results of these tests are feeding the next phase of the project — EAGLET 2.0 — which is a continued collaboration with DEVCOM and expected to be an improved, production-ready vehicle that incorporates lessons learned from the demonstrator. Flight testing for EAGLET 2.0 is expected to begin in 2025.

The team says DPG provides them with a unique location to test their new technology. “I feel like Dugway is a very reasonable place to come test; it has great support for these types of flight demonstrations, especially something like Eaglet,” says Ethan Brown, engineering director of advanced programs at General Atomics. “The airspace that’s available here is a tremendous asset, compared to some other ranges where it’s a much more congested area and therefore more difficult to work with,” added Velky.