|Kit:||Italeri (MQ-9) + scratch-built|
|Aircraft:||#870, NASA & US Forest Service, California, 2007|
Ikhana over Lake Arrowhead, CA wildfires in October 2007 (NASA photo).
The Ikhana (Choctaw Native American word for "intelligent, conscious, or aware") is NASA's modified version of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (aka "Predator-B") drone. The aircraft was equipped with a special instrument pod to collect wildfire imagery, process the data onboard, and transmit in nearly real time . Ikhana was used in a joint project of NASA and the US Forest Service, and was flown, for example, to monitor forest fires in Western US.
This is my first UAV and also my first model where I have used 3D-printed parts. I started the project back in 2012 by preparing some artwork for decals, only to find out that Caracal Decals already had a very nice Reaper sheet with decals also for the Ikhana. I also needed to prepare scale plans for the sensor pod, though, as this is a NASA design and not used in military Reapers; see the section below for a more detailed description.
The Italeri kit of the MQ-9 is a nice representation of this UAV (a re-boxing of the earlier Skunkworks kit). No major corrections were needed, but since the kit represents the standard military variant of the Reaper, fair amount of work was called for to turn it into the Ikhana. Here is what I changed/removed/added:
I also added some weight in the nose to make sure the model will stand properly on its landing gear.
Main areas of attention in this conversion.
Initial construction of the airframe.
Note that the FLIR turret has been removed.
Airframe complete and ready for base coat
First white base coat revealed that some minor patching still needed to be done.
I prepared scale plans for the sensor pod, first using Adobe Illustrator, and then used those to prepare a 3D model first using Autodesk's 123D and later (after 123D was discontinued) TinkerCAD. I had the part printed by a commercial 3D printing service. The surface quality was not quite what you would expect in a scale model, so some sanding was needed, followed by generous coats of Mr. Surfacer 500, and more sanding. I took the top part of one of the kit's missile pylons and attached it at the top of the pod.
Sensor pod 3D design.
3D-printed sensor pod wth the kit's modified missile pylon.
Sensor pod attached.
Sensor pod and many other details clearly visible (NASA photo).
Our Ikhana scale plans
First production MQ-9A Reaper (02-4001, c/n PB 001) of 174th ATKW, NY ANG at Westover AFB in May 2015 (SMA photo). Note the earlier-style shallow fuselage, this was also used in NASA's Altair drone that preceded the Ikhana. Unicraft has a 1/72nd scale kit with this fuselage.
Ikhana being prepared for a mission in July 2008 (NASA photo).