NASA's Ikhana unmanned science and technology development aircraft is a Predator B unmanned aerial system. It was acquired by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to support Earth science missions and advanced aeronautical technology development. The aircraft, named Ikhana, acts as a testbed to develop capabilities and technologies to improve the utility of unmanned aerial systems. NASA obtained the aircraft from the manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, in November 2006. Ikhana is a Native American Choctaw word meaning intelligence, conscious or aware. The name is descriptive of the research goals NASA has established for the aircraft and its related systems.
The aircraft, designed for long-endurance, high-altitude flight, has been modified and instrumented for use in multiple civil research roles.
NASA's Suborbital Science Program within the Science Mission Directorate is Ikhana's primary customer, using the aircraft for Earth science studies. A variety of atmospheric and remote sensing instruments, including duplicates of those sensors on orbiting satellites, can be installed to collect data during flights lasting up to 30 hours. The Suborbital Science Program uses both manned and unmanned aircraft to collect data within the Earth's atmosphere, complementing measurements of the same phenomenon taken from space and those taken on the Earth's surface.
NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate will also use the aircraft for advanced aircraft systems research and technology development. Initial experiments will look into the use of fiber optics for wing shape sensing and control and structural loads measurements. NASA's Ikhana unmanned science aircraft ground control station includes consoles for two pilots and positions for scientists and engineers along the side.
NASA's Ikhana/Predator B has a wingspan of 66 feet and is 36 feet long. More than 400 pounds of sensors can be carried internally and over 2,000 pounds in external under-wing pods. Ikhana is powered by a Honeywell TPE 331-10T turbine engine and is capable of reaching altitudes above 40,000 feet. The Ikhana is the first production Predator B equipped with a digital electronic engine controller developed by Honeywell and GA-ASI that made Ikhana five to 10 percent more fuel efficient than earlier versions of the aircraft.
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