Action images posted above show this particular GNAT taking off or on the flight line in the Balkans around 1997-1998
|Primary Function:||Reconnaissance UAV Drone|
|Power Plant:||1x Rotax 582, two-cylinder two-stroke rotary valve engine generating 65 hp
|Wingspan:||35 feet 4 inches|
|Length:||16 feet 5 inches|
|Service Ceiling:||25,000 feet|
|Wingspan:||35 feet 4 inches|
|Weight:||Gross: 1,400 lbs; Empty: 560 lbs|
|Range:||Fly 1,240 miles to an operational area and loiter there for 12 hours before returning home.|
|Maximum Speed:||120 mph|
|Manufactured by:||General Atomics|
|Owner:||On loan from National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL|
The General Atomics GNAT is a reconnaissance UAV developed in the United States in the late 1980s and manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI). As initially designed, it was a simplified version of the LSI Amber intended for foreign sales. The GNAT 750 made its first flight in 1989. This GNAT arrived at Estrella Warbird Museum in December 2014, after last having been utilized for training purposes at Camp Roberts, by the US Army.
The GNAT 750's configuration was similar to that of the Amber, its never fielded predecessor, except that the GNAT 750's wing was mounted low on the fuselage, instead of being mounted on a pylon on top. The GNAT 750 was somewhat larger than the Amber, but weighed less and could carry a heavier payload. Even though the name "GNAT" can be thought of as a contraction of GeNeral ATomics, the original name of the developing company before its acquisition by General Atomics was Leading Systems Incorporated (LSI). The idea of the name was more probably related to the fact that a gnat is small. The "750" part of the name stands for the distance in millimeters from the leading edge to trailing edge of the wing near the wing root.
The aircraft is powered by a Rotax 582, two-cylinder two-stroke rotary valve engine, generating 65 hp (48 kW). It can fly to an operational area from 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away and loiter there for 12 hours before returning home.
Eight GNAT 750s were in development when General Atomics bought out LSI. General Atomics continued the program, which led to a contract from the Turkish government for a number of the UAVs in 1993. The Turkish Air Force operates 6 GNAT-750 and 16 I-GNAT ER unmanned aerial vehicles.
By this time, the breakup of the old Communist states of Eastern Europe was in full swing, and the United States government wanted to obtain an intelligence asset to help it deal with trouble spots in the region, specifically the former Yugoslavia (Balkans) where a bloody civil war erupted between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. A contract was issued to General Atomics for GNAT 750s with major modifications, including an air-to-air relay datalink system that provided extended range of the system from the Ground Control Station (GCS) located at the launch and recovery site. The aircraft were to be operated by the CIA. Due to the urgent need to get an ISR airborne capability in the skies over the Balkans, which were heavily defended with an integrated air defense system, including SA-2 and SA-6 Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs), then director James Woolsey mandated that an existing unmanned platform be modified and deployed within 90 days. An unmanned platform was required due to the serious SAM threat posed for manned aircraft (the SAM threat prevented the overflight of any manned air assets which created a major intelligence gap, making it difficult to assess the severity of the conflict). After a rapid market survey, the Gnat-750 was chosen primarily for its performance, availability as a production platform and relative maturity compared to other available unmanned aircraft at the time. Additionally, it could loiter at low airspeeds which made it virtually impossible for it to be tracked by air defense RADAR. This in turn made it a very effective platform to execute the required mission.
Due to the aggressive schedule to get the system modified and tested, the program encountered a number of technical difficulties, along with bureaucratic factionalism and squabbling between the civilian organization and US military regarding who should execute the program. One aircraft crashed during tests when software developed only for ground testing was inadvertently left installed in the flight computer prior to a scheduled flight test. When command and control link was momentarily lost inflight, the test software logic told the aircraft it was on the ground and shut down the engine inflight, which led to loss of the aircraft. This aircraft was quickly replaced by another available production aircraft and the test program was able to continue with minimal delay.
The GNAT 750 effort persevered through the technical, schedule and bureaucratic challenges, and in early 1994 the CIA sent a team equipped with GNAT 750s to Albania to monitor events in the former Yugoslavia. The operation was only a marginal success mainly because of remaining technical problems, operational and weather related issues but was deemed a success nonetheless due to the fact that it deployed, gathered critical intelligence despite limited flight time and returned home with all assets intact. More aircraft were added to the Gnat-750 fleet and subsequently put on a continuous deployment / refurbish / deployment schedule throughout the remainder of the 1990s. Having deployed numerous times to various locations, only one Gnat-750 was lost in action while supporting combat operations in the Balkans. The loss was due to a blocked fuel line in one of the originally procured aircraft.
GNAT 750 In Flight