According to its developer, the United States Air Force, the MQ-1 Predator is a system of MQ-1 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), a ground control station and remote control communications, and operating crew and support personnel; the RQ-1 designation refers to the entire system. In many respects, it was a proof of concept, with the prototype RQ-1 first used extensively in Bosnia in 1995, with its surveillance information distributed to many NATO countries; the Italian Air Force also flies it. 
Formally, the MQ-1 Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted UAV now optimized for armed reconnaissance. Its secondary mission is as a "Joint Forces Air Component Commander-owned theater asset for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of the Joint Forces commander." It is to be replaced by the MQ-9 Reaper, originally called "Predator B", which is roughly twice the size, with aerodynamic and electronic improvements.
One pilot and two sensor operators control the Predator, from workstations inside the ground station, using a line-of-sight or satellite command link. The UAV can take off and land on a 5,000 by 75 feet (1,524 meters by 23 meters), hard surface runway with clear line-of-sight.
In 1996, the Predator was used to provide imagery in Bosnia; the Global Broadcast Service satellite system was introduced to distribute the video. Ground stations also send the imagery into intelligence networks using the TROJAN SPIRIT communications systems.
The aircraft is equipped with a color nose camera (generally used by the pilot for flight control), a day variable-aperture TV camera, a variable-aperture infrared camera (for low light/night), and a synthetic aperture radarfor looking through smoke, clouds or haze. The cameras produce full motion video while the SAR produces still frame radar images.
A Northrop Grumman ASIP-1C signals intelligence package now flown on the U-2 manned reconnaissance aircraft is being integrated with the Predator, as well as the MQ-9 Reaper. This package is optimized to intercept lower-frequency communications, such as mobile telephones. It is also carried by the MQ-4 Global Hawk long-range UAV and the RC-12 GUARDRAIL manned surveillance aircraft. 
Armed Predators have been used in combat, beginning on 5 November 2002. A Predator-launched Hellfire struck a car in Yemen, containing Al-Qaeda members. The Predator was under the control of a Central Intelligence Agency crew.
The MQ-1 Predator carries the Multi-spectral Targeting Syste (MTS) for the AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile targeting capability and integrates electro-optical, infrared, laser designator and laser illuminator into a single sensor package. The Predator can carry two Hellfire missiles.
An electronic warfare variant has been planned,  but an attempt to integrate the Core Component Jammer from the B-52 was cancelled due to high cost. Most "electronic warfare" references to the Predator actually discuss signals intelligence, not electronic attack payloads.
According to the U.S. Air Force,
- Primary Function: Armed reconnaissance, airborne surveillance and target acquisition
- Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated
- Power Plant: Rotax 914F four cylinder engine
- Thrust: 115 horsepower
- Wingspan: 48.7 feet (14.8 meters)
- Length: 27 feet (8.22 meters)
- Height: 6.9 feet (2.1 meters)
- Weight: 1,130 pounds ( 512 kilograms) empty
- Maximum Takeoff weight: 2,250 pounds (1,020 kilograms)
- Fuel Capacity: 665 pounds (100 gallons)
- Payload: 450 pounds (204 kilograms)
- Speed: Cruise speed around 84 mph (70 knots), up to 135 mph
- Range: up to 400 nautical miles (454 miles)
- Ceiling: up to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters)
- Armament: two laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles
- Crew (remote): Two (pilot and sensor operator)
- Initial operational capability: March 2005
Unit Cost: $40 million (fiscal 1997 dollars) (includes 4 aircraft, ground control stations, and Predator Primary Satellite Link) Inventory: Active force, 102; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0
- Parsch, Andeas, "General Atomics RQ/MQ-1 Predator", DesignationSystems.net
- "Predator RQ-1 / MQ-1 / MQ-9 Reaper - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), USA", Air Force Technology
- United States Air Force, "MQ-1 Predator fact sheet", Air Force Link
- Stephen Trimble (April 25, 2008), "Predator, Reaper to add electronic warfare payload", Flight International
- Jeffrey Addicott (7 November 2002), The Yemen Attack: Illegal Assassination or Lawful Killing?
- "EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack Aircraft F/A-18G "Growler"", Globalsecurity.com
- John A. Tirpak (December 2008), "High Stress Numbers Game", Air Force Magazine 91 (12)