Soldiers who will soon take the controls of one of the Army’s most sophisticated unmanned aircraft recently visited with workers building the planes in California.

The Extended-Range/Multi-Purpose UAS is built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and is set to deploy with the Army operators next fall. In addition to collecting images and intelligence, the ER/MP will also pack a deadly punch: It can carry four laser-guided Hellfire missiles.

“We call it around here ‘the sexiest program in the Army,’ ” said Lt. Col. Kevin Messer, ER/MP product manager in the Army’s UAS Project Office on Redstone Arsenal.

The visit to General Atomics certainly wasn’t his first look at the aircraft – “I’ve got most of it memorized,” Messer said – but it was a rare experience for the group of men training to fly the ER/MP.

“Seldom does the Army soldier ever get an opportunity to go to a plant to see where their item is being built and what it’s all about and what it takes to build it,” he said. “They now see how it’s all put together. They can see the different skill sets needed to be able to build the airframe and the skill sets needed for all the electronics.”

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