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USAF trials new prototype to power MQ-9 Reaper drones

HANCOCK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, NY — The Department of the Air Force completed testing of the 400Hz Aircraft Power Lightcart (400 APL) in January 2024. The tests, which were conducted with the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York, saw the prototype successfully power an MQ-9, or Predator, through a series of technical orders.

The United States Air Force has successfully tested its 400 Hz Aircraft Power Lightcart prototype by powering a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.

The United States Air Force has successfully tested its 400 Hz Aircraft Power Lightcart prototype by powering a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Department of the Air Force tests, conducted at the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in New York, saw the 400 APL prototype successfully power the Predator through a series of technical orders in January this year.

“Support for this program has been off the charts,” according to engineer Tom Layne, AFRL Energy Office project team lead.

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“The requirement jointly came in from Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Force Special Operations Command, for programming weapons and powering small airframes on the ground.

“The prime contractor was Concurrent Technologies Corporation with design inputs coming from Pacific Air Forces, Air Combat Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC)/A4M, and three program offices: support equipment and vehicles, automatic test systems, and MQ-9.”

The 400 APL project, led by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Energy Office, promotes an agile combat employment strategy of dispersing aircraft and equipment between major hub bases and smaller airfields to improve resilience and survivability.

Following deployment, the multi-capable system is expected to provide capability for airmen and equipment to rapidly relocate to the combat edge and generate combat sorties.

It’s designed to replace two heavier systems – the B809 generator and the MLC4064AF lightcart – with a smaller footprint, reduced noise and emissions, LED lighting for low-light operation and reduced maintenance requirements.

Lieutenant Colonel Lee Nietzel, Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander for the 174th Attack Wing, said he was thrilled with the successful test and the part that the 400 APL would play in the ability to set up rapid launch and recovery sites.

“Our Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s capability to be agile resides with reducing and simplifying our equipment footprint,” Lt Col Nietzel said.

“Being agile means less equipment, less weight, and quicker mobilisation at a launch and recovery site. Our goal is a single C-130 to set-up a rapid launch and recovery site.

“The APL cart helps get us to our goal by replacing two pieces of equipment with one, in turn a (nearly) 5,000-pound reduction in weight and one pallet position.

“We look forward to future testing of APL with our newly acquired Reaper Rapid Reaction Trailer, which will improve the speed of our mobilisation at a launch and recovery site.”

Work is also being undertaken to create a capable variant of the 400 APL that will be able to provide power to larger combat airframes. The enhanced capability prototype is scheduled to begin testing later this year.

Robert Dougherty

Robert Dougherty

Robert is a senior journalist who has previously worked for Seven West Media in Western Australia, as well as Fairfax Media and Australian Community Media in New South Wales. He has produced national headlines, photography and videography of emergency services, business, community, defence and government news across Australia. Robert graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Public Relations and Journalism at Curtin University, attended student exchange program with Fudan University and holds Tier 1 General Advice certification for Kaplan Professional. Reach out via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via LinkedIn.
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