General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has begun company-funded development of a variant of its Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft that will meet the airworthiness requirements for civil airspace access in the U.S. and NATO countries.

Based on the current Block 5 Predator B configuration and Advanced Cockpit ground control station, the new variant will include an onboard flight data recorder, improved weather capabilities including lightning protection and anti-icing, and enhanced communications, including a secondary satellite-communications link.

The new variant will be “fully complaint with the airworthiness requirements of the U.S. Air Force and anticipated NATO customers … for integration into domestic and international airspace,” says GA-ASI, and is envisioned as a “multi-nation, certifiable, exportable configuration.”

Germany’s RUAG Aerospace Services is under contract to provide technical assistance on the “analysis, decomposition and management of airworthiness requirements” to enable the Predator B to meet NATO and U.K. standards, says GA-ASI.

RUAG is teamed with General Atomics to offer the Predator B to Germany, which in May cited airworthiness-certification and airspace-access issues as reasons for abandoning plans to acquire a fleet of five Northrop Grumman/EADS Cassidian Euro Hawk unmanned aircraft.

Germany is considering acquiring Predator Bs to replace its leased Israel Aerospace Industries Heron 1 medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV. France is also eyeing the Predator B and GA-ASI has teamed with Fokker Technologies to offer the system to the Netherlands. Italy and the U.K. operate MQ-9s.

In February, GA-ASI announced the first sale of an exportable version of its smaller Predator A. The United Arab Emirates is the first customer for the Predator XP, which features triple-redundant avionics, automatic takeoff and landing, and multi-mode radar with maritime surveillance capability.

In December, the company flew its internally funded Due Regard Radar, part of its planned sense-and-avoid architecture for the Predator B. The air-to-air radar will allow the UAV to detect “non-cooperative” intruding aircraft not fitted with air traffic control transponders, to provide safe separation and collision avoidance.