Review: MQ-1 UAV Predator As Published By Abacus
By Bill Stack
April 4, 2012
Screen shots by Abacus
Umanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are aircraft flown by remote control without human pilots on board. Various models are used for government, commercial, and recreational purposes. Their operators can be on the ground, in a maritime vessel, or in another airborne aircraft. They range in size from model aircraft to about the size of a Cessna 172.
Their most significant uses are for government intelligence, reconnoissance, and surgical attack, especially by the United States. These aircraft are commonly called "drones" by news media and the general public.
The MQ-1 UAV Predator by General Atomics is used primarily by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It carries cameras and other sensors, and some carry weaponry such as Hellfire missiles. The tail-mounted pusher propeller is driven by a Rotax engine, various models of which are also used in civilian ultralight aircraft, motorcycles, skiboats, and similar recreational vehicles. The Predator is easily recognizable by its bulbous nose, downward-pointing elevators and fin, and lack of windows.
The Flightsim Predator
The MQ-1 UAV Predator as published by Abacus is for Microsoft Flight Simulator ® versions 9 and 10 (commonly called FS2004 and FSX). I reviewed the FSX version.
Abacus doesn't say much about its Predator on the Pilot Shop page or in its manual, so here are a few of its features:
- Five color schemes
- Unique sounds
- Eight missions in the FSX version
- Scenery for the FSX missions
- Unique "remote" control
The MQ-1 UAV Predator is powered by a Rotax 914 engine whose turbocharged four cylinders produce 115 horsepower for its two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller. It's almost twice as powerful than the 64-horsepower Rotax 582 engine that powers the Austflight Drifter by Ant's Airplanes. (The MQ-1 Predator weighs almost five times as much.)
The aircraft and missions in this package were created by First Class Simulations, which is a publishing company that resides in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England. "First Class Simulations use various other publishers worldwide to sell their products outside of the UK, including Abacus Publishing for the USA," explains David Chester, a member of the development team.
|FIVE AVAILABLE COLORS
|Selection Menu||15th RS|
|57th Wing||Fictional Desert Scheme|
|Fictional Night Scheme||Fictional Snow Scheme|
|Screen shots by Bill Stack|
All five of the MQ-1 UAV Predators are physically accurate in shape and dimensions. Two seem accurately painted compared with real-world photos I found. Three paint schemes are admittedly fictitious yet sensible. Four of the Predators are intended for intelligence and reconnoissance only. Only its 15th RS model has Hellfire missiles, but not all real Predators have them either. The control room, pilot station, and instrument panels look like real-world photos I found. I didn't see anything visually to criticize outside or inside this aircraft.
Operating the Aircraft
Operating the aircraft entails using the unique instruments and controls, understanding the performance specifications, and experiencing the aircraft in flight.
Instruments & Controls
Pilots of this aircraft rely solely on GPS for navigation because there are no traditional radio navaid devices such as omnibearing indicators and automatic direction finders.
Based on pictures of the real-world "cockpit," I believe the flightsim renditions of this operation station and instruments are accurate.
Aircraft Performance Specifications
Performance specifications and guidance for the MQ-1 UAV Predator are scant. Abacus doesn't provide data about cruising speed, ceiling, range, and V speeds, and I found conflicting data on several websites. Several websites, including General Atomics, provide rather useless information such as cruising speed "over 70 knots." Other data just don't add up. For example, the range is given on several websites as 400 nautical miles and the endurance as 24 hours, which calculate to an average airspeed of 17 knots. Multiplying the 24-hour endurance times the minimum cruising speed of 70 knots shows a range of at least 1,680 NM. Using a cruising speed of 130 knots, which I obtained in my test flights, shows a range of 3,120 NM. For these reasons, the range and endurance figures I found on these websites are doubtful. The following data are what I collected from the Internet, from FSX, and during my test flights.
|MQ-1 UAV Predator Performance|
|Item||Internet||Abacus Default||Flight Tests|
|Empty Weight||1,130 LBS (513 KG) 3||1,130 LBS (513 KG)|
|Useful Load||1,120 LBS (508 KG) 2||1,070 LBS (485 KG) 2|
|Maximum Weight||2,250 LBS (1,021 KG) 4||2,200 LBS (998 KG)|
|Range||4001 to 675 NM 4|
|Endurance||Over 24 HRS 1|
|Ceiling||25,000 FT (7,625 M) 1||18,000 FT (5,490 m)|
|Take-Off Speed||55 KTS (3,000 FT)|
|Climbout Speed||70 KTS|
|Cruising Speed||Over 70 KTS1||70 to 130 KTS|
|Maximum Speed||135 KTS 3||130 to 135 KTS|
|Stall Speed||Would not stall|
|Approach Speed||70 to 80 KTS|
1. General Atomics
2. Calculated from other data
4. U.S. Air Force
5. Flight tests
Unless otherwise noted, performance data are based on my flight tests.
To evaluate this aircraft, I flew several free flights and two of the eight missions to get a feel for the aircraft in different environments. I flew all flights with the default gross weight of 1,280 pounds (581 kilograms). I also used clear weather, calm air, and standard atmosphere (29.92 inches and 59F). Without checklists, reference sheets, or flight guidance in the manual, flying this aircraft requires a lot of guessing and experimenting.
Free Flights: I flew my free flights from Gray Butte Field (04CA) in Palmdale, California, because it is owned by General Atomics and used for testing its MQ-1 Predators. Elevation is 3,028 feet (923 meters). Runways 8/26 are 8,000 feet long and 150 feet wide (2,438 meters by 46 meters). As a private field, permission is required for use, according to AirNav.
Preflight. After starting the engine, the throttle must be advanced slightly to keep the engine running. Otherwise, it will shut itself down. At the next-to-lowest throttle position, the tachometer reads 425 RPMs. This idling speed seems reasonable for a four-cylinder engine, but it's much lower than the 2,000-RPM idling speed of the smaller Rotax 582 used in the Austflight Drifter ultralight. The Predator sits stationary at this power level. Moving the throttle to its lowest point shuts down the engine.
Taxiing. The Predator taxied easily at 20 knots with tachometer at 960 RPMs. It responds to left/right controls quickly but not extremely. Such control would be very important for a real-world pilot who's not seeing out side windows or experiencing the physical sensations of being inside a real moving aircraft.
Taking Off. With full throttle, the tachometer increased to more than 2,400 RPMs. The aircraft lifted off around 70 knots after using very little runway. It also reached 70 knots soon enough with the throttle control half-way up and the tachometer at 1,800 RPMs.
Climbing Out: At 1,800 RPMs, the Predator climbed out at 70 knots and 1,200 feet per minute. At full throttle, the engine accelerated to 2,560 RPMs and the aircraft climbed at 100 knots and 2,250 feet per minute. There's no guidance on best climb rates or speeds, but these speeds seem reasonable for an aircraft of this size and weight.
Ceiling: The ceiling is specified at 25,000 feet on several websites, but the highest I was able to attain was 18,800 feet (5,490 meters). Above 10,000 feet (3,050 meters), it climbed at less than 500 feet per minute and 103 knots. Around 18,000 feet (5,490 meters), it climbed very slowly and lost more airspeed, slowing to 95 knots indicated. Maybe it can reach higher altitudes with less weight, but I didn't fly long enough to test that. And maybe I just wasn't operating it correctly, but I don't know because there's no flight manual.
Cruising: The Predator held straight and level flight easily at most altitudes. It cruised up to 135 knots at lower altitudes, about 110 knots around 10,000 feet, and about 100 knots around 15,000 feet. Getting this aircraft to cruise at the specified 70 knots was nearly impossible. It responded to trim tabs for holding pitch.
Maximum Speed: I found no maximum speed cited by Abacus or any website. The overspeed alarm sounded between 130 and 135 knots, but not at any precise airspeed. The alarm appeared to respond to a combination of airspeed, vertical speed, and angle of attack.
Stalling: I was unable to induce a stall, no matter how much I tried. I cut power to zero and pulled the nose up; the aircraft lost a lot of airspeed, but it would not stall, even after the airspeed indication turned red. There was no stall alarm and no erratic behavior. It just glided quietly and smoothly toward the ground.
Turning: Turning at any altitude is quick and easy, but not so easy that control would be lost by over banking. It resumes straight-ahead flight easily.
Descending: To begin descent, I pulled the throttle back half way, and the aircraft glided at 105 knots, 1,500 feet per minute, and 2,200 RPMs. Then I increased throttle and pushed the nose downward to induce a faster descent. This aircraft descends controllably, even at high vertical speeds such as 3,000 FPM and airspeed of 130 knots. Fast descents are not problematic Without people on board, an excessive airspeed is problematic only for the aircraft structure.
Approaching: Without an OBI and navigation radios, no ILS is available for approach and landing assistance. Pilots must rely on the map display and the radio altimeter. The aircraft seemed to want more airspeed than the 70-knot specified cruising speed. Below that speed, it just didn't want to follow a smooth glide slope any more. There are no flaps for assistance, either. I suspect that the cruising speed specified on several websites, including General Atomics', is actually a cruising range — from 70 knots to 130 knots, and that "over 70 knots" means no slower than 70 knots.
Landing: Without flaps, the Predator must be guided toward the runway at just the right angle and airspeed. After it glided over the runway threshold at 70 knots, I pulled the nose up slightly and throttled down. The Predator slowed to about 50 knots and settled on the runway comfortably. After that, it slowed to taxi speed quickly, with a little help from the wheel brakes.
Overall, the MQ-1 UAV Predator handles much like a small general-aviation, propeller-driven, piston-engine aircraft, such as a Piper Cub for example. Without an autopilot, it's definitely a hands-on aircraft. Its unique abilities, particularly its high climb and descent rates, result from its absence of human occupants and cargo. Predators that carry Hellfire missiles might handle differently because of the increased payload, but all five of the Predators have the same default weight, with and without the missiles.
Another unique operational characteristic is the lack of peripheral views. Sim pilots can see only straight ahead. There are no side windows, and the view screen doesn't pan left or right. The view can be zoomed in for closer looks, and it can be panned around the control room. It can be panned outside the aircraft only by moving the virtual cockpit's viewpoint into the view screen and through the wall, which is rather absurd. This constraint is likely a result MSFS' not being designed for remote-control flight. I found it a problem only when turning left into a runway centerline for final approach and when aligning a target in the missions. This is a unique aircraft, after all, and simulating its flight is a unique experience.
Unfortunately, I cannot resolve my questions about maximum speed, stall speed, minimum speeds, cruising speeds, or approach/landing speeds because I received no response from Abacus tech support.
|PREDATOR IN FLIGHT|
|Screen shots by Bill Stack|
Eight missions give flight simmers ample practice around the world with the MQ-1 UAV Predator before simulating flight in real-world theaters such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- Mission 1 - Plane Spotting, California, USA
- Mission 2 - Low Level, Nevada, USA
- Mission 3 - Archipelago, Indonesia
- Mission 4 - Satellite, Finland
- Mission 5 - Dutch Dash, The Netherlands
- Mission 6 - Time Trial, France
- Mission 7 - Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
- Mission 8 - Submarine Hunt, North Atlantic
All eight missions are described clearly, replete with screen shots. The Plane Spotting mission, which I flew, is described as follows in Abacus' 14-page manual:
Intelligence sources believe terrorists using light aircraft to smuggle weapons into the U.S. It's suggested the terrorists are using Shelter Cove airstrip in Northern California as a base of operations. The terrorist cell is using a small Piper Cub aircraft. Your task is to fly from Little River airport and follow the coastline north to Shelter Cove, some 48 miles from Little River. If the Piper Cub is there, make a low pass to ensure that this is the aircraft referred to in the intelligence report. The mission ends on successful identification of the suspect aircraft. List the missions with brief description.
Like other FSX missions, the targets of these missions are boldly identified (not so in real life), and the compass rose in the top left of the view provides ample information for finding the targets.
Once operation of this aircraft is mastered, the missions are fairly easy to do. As stated earlier, the lack of peripheral views and panning camera for the view screen present a unique challenge for finding runways and targets the left or right of straight ahead.
|Mission Menu||Mission 2 Target|
Screen shots by Bill Stack
A 14-page manual in Word and Adobe Acrobat format predominantly describes the eight missions, one by one, with screen shots. Its page about flying the aircraft provides only a brief overview but no flight guidance. There are no checklists or reference sheets.
|Cover||Page 3||Page 5|
Screen shots by Bill Stack
This product is for Microsoft Flight Simulator ® versions 9 and 10 (commonly called FS2004 and FSX). Both versions are contained in one product.
Neither system requirements nor simulator settings are mentioned, but I didn't see that anything special is needed anyway.
Purchase and installation from the Pilot Shop are very easy. Downloading and installation are quick. A license code is required for installation. Acknowledgment of copyright is not required.
The installation program installs the aircraft files into the appropriate FS2004 or FSX aircraft folders. Users select which version they want to install.
In the Aircraft Selection menu, the Predator is listed in the manufacturer category under "General Atomics."
Frame rates are good, in the 20s and 30s most of the time.
Sounds are unique, with 71 new sound files in the sound folder. I received no response from Abacus regarding the origin of these sound files, however.
Removing the product (if desired) must be done through the Windows Add/Remove programs function or with Windows Explorer.
I received no responses from Abacus to two emails with 16 questions sent over several days.
Readers with technical questions not answered in this review should ask the developer, who is in the best position to answer such questions. Using the links below, go to the Pilot Shop page where the product is listed and described, then click on "Manufacturer Tech Support" in the right column.
Instant download from the Pilot Shop
License key required
Copyright acknowledgment required
Uninstall program included
Information about the MQ-1 UAV Predator is available from these websites:
|Source: Defense Update||Source: How Stuff Works||Source: U.S. Air Force|
The Predator was developed by David Chester, Daniel Dunn and Jane Whittaker, with Rotax engine sounds by Mike Hambley, for First Class Simulations who are based in Oxford, UK.
Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A., Abacus has been developing and marketing add-on products for Microsoft Flight Simulator ® for many years. Three recent examples are:
|Boeing 787 Dreamliner||Carrier Strike Force||Cessna 162 SkyCatcher|
This unique aircraft provides unusual simulation opportunities and experiences. It's realistic inside and out, within the confines of MSFS. Even though it lacks flight guidance, flight simmers will find it easy to handle. The eight missions are well planned and great ways to enjoy the aircraft. Although I tested the MQ-1 UAV Predator at Gray Butte Field because that's where General Atomics tests its Predators, and although the eight missions are scattered around the globe, flight simmers would surely enjoy real-world theaters such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. A manual and/or checklists and reference sheets with instrument and performance instructions would be helpful. Tech support needs improvement.
Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His website is www.topskills.com