First flown in 1994, the Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft used predominantly by the US Air Force and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Predator has roots in the GNAT 750, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) project designed and built by Israeli immigrant Abraham Karem, whose company was bought out by General Atomics. The GNAT caught the attention of the CIA which briefly used them in the former Yugoslavia. In the early 1990s, the Defense Department requested an unmanned intelligence and reconnaissance platform. They decided on the General Atomics RQ-1 Predator and, in 1996, selected the Air Force as the primary operator. Its 24 hour loiter time allowed the ground-based pilot and sensor operator to have a better understanding of the ground situation compared to most manned aircraft.
In 2002 an RQ-1 test launched an AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missile proving it could be used as a strike aircraft. Predators that were built with or upgraded to this ability were designated MQ-1 for its new multirole mission. The quietness of the Predator combined with the supersonic speed of the Hellfire made the MQ-1 the platform of choice for precision strikes and targeted killings of terrorists.
The Air Force retired the last of its Predators in March 2018, replacing it with the larger more capable General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. It is estimated that Predators flew around 2,000,000 hours in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In the last 10 years of their service, Predators flew 70,000 sorties and conducted 2,700 strikes.
214th Reconnaissance Group, Arizona Air National Guard, Afghanistan 2012
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