A Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) made history as it landed at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK and became the first MALE RPA to successfully complete a trans-Atlantic flight. The GA-ASI-owned MQ-9B SkyGuardian took off from Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA on July 10th at 12:48 p.m. CDT. The flight covered 3,760 nautical mile flight in 24 hours 2 minutes.
“This historic event was a demonstration of the endurance and civil airspace capability of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, and it is fitting to do this as part of the centennial celebration of the RAF,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “The successful flight of the MQ-9B is the culmination of the hard work and innovation of our dedicated employees, and the strong relationships that we enjoy with the RAF, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and our UK industry partners such as Cobham.”
Over the past 10 years, the RAF has operated GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Reaper® RPA in support of the NATO and Coalition operations. The RAF is celebrating its 100-year anniversary (RAF100), so GA-ASI seized the opportunity to fly the newest MQ-9 version, MQ-9B to RIAT. The RAF configuration of MQ-9B will be called PROTECTOR RG Mk1.
MQ-9B is the next generation of GA-ASI’s multi-mission Predator® B fleet. GA-ASI named its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian, and the maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian. MQ-9B is a “type-certifiable” (STANAG 4671-compliant) version of the MQ-9 Predator B product line. Its development is the result of a five-year, company-funded effort to deliver a RPA that can meet the stringent airworthiness type-certification requirements of various military and civil authorities, including the UK Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the US FAA. Type-certification, together with an extensively tested collision avoidance system, will allow unrestricted operations in all classes of civil airspace.
Paul Armstrong, Senior Vice President of Cobham Aviation Services UK, said: “The SkyGuardian trans-Atlantic flight is a significant and exciting event for both GA-ASI and for the future capability of the RAF. Cobham is proud to have a teaming agreement with GA-ASI for logistics and maintenance services, which builds on our present support of the Reaper Ground Control Stations. We look forward to working with both GA-ASI and the RAF as the PROTECTOR RG Mk1 comes into service.”