General Atomics ALTUS I

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The General Atomics ALTUS is an unmanned aerial vehicle, designed for scientific research, built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI).

The ALTUS (the name is Latin for “high”) is a civil variant of the GNAT-750 and MQ-1 Predator. Although similar in appearance, the ALTUS has a slightly longer wingspan and is designed to carry atmospheric sampling and other instruments for civilian scientific research missions in place of the military reconnaissance equipment carried by the Predators. It can carry up to 330 lb of sensors and other scientific instruments in a nose-mounted payload compartment, a location designed to allow air being sampled by the sensors to be undisturbed by heat or pollutants from engine exhaust. Power is provided by a four-cylinder Rotax 912 gasoline engine with additional airflow provided by a turbocharger built by Thermo-Mechanical Systems., Inc., of Canoga Park, CA.

GA-ASI has built two ALTUS aircraft to date: the ALTUS I, equipped with a single-stage turbocharger, for the Naval Postgraduate School, and the ALTUS II, with a two-stage turbocharger, for NASA under the ERAST Project.

The ALTUS I, completed in early 1997, flew a series of development flights at Dryden Flight Research Center in August 1997. Those test flights were designed to demonstrate the ability of the experimental craft to cruise at altitudes above 40,000 feet for sustained durations. On its final flight August 15, the Altus I reached an altitude of 43,500 feet, a record for a remotely operated aircraft powered by a piston engine augmented with a single-stage turbocharger.

Project Milestones

  • September 5, 1996 ALTUS reaches a personal best by attaining 37,000 feet for more than 2 hours.
  • October 1996 ALTUS sets endurance record for UAVs carrying science payloads on a 26-hour flight.
  • Summer 1997 ALTUS reaches 43,500 feet during development flights.
  • Spring 1998 ALTUS returns to flight test
  • March 1999 ALTUS flies for three hours above 55,000 feet and eight hours at 50,000 feet altitude.
  • July 23, 1999 ALTUS flies to 55,000 feet over 4 hours.
  • Specs

    Max. Takeoff Weight
    Max Speed
    ALTUS I7.216.5

    USAGeneral Atomics Aeronautical SystemsSan Diego, California