MQ-1 Predator drone made by General Atomics of Poway. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Air Force announced Monday it will phase out the iconic MQ-1 Predator drone after 21 years in favor of General Atomics‘ beefier new version, the MQ-9 Reaper.

The Reaper is faster, has better sensors and carries a much larger weapons payload — 4,000 pounds versus 200 pounds for the Predator.

Those additional capabilities have allowed the drone fleet to evolve from a surveillance role to one of close air support.

“I think when we look at the legacy of the MQ-1 we’re going to be scratching our heads wondering how we did so much with so little,” said an Air Force officer familiar with the program. “The men and women flying them starting with two squadrons took a science project and throughout many evolutionary changes made it what it is today.”

The Air Force will start the phase out in July and complete it in 2018 as all crews are trained on the Reaper. The service reportedly had nearly 200 Reapers in its inventory at the beginning of 2016.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.