On 25th September, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) completed the first flight of the Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), the fourth MQ-9B SkyGuardian air vehicle (the first three MQ-9B air vehicles are company-owned assets supporting the certification qualification), with the first Protector - known within GA-ASI as UK1 - used to support system testing as part of a combined UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), US Air Force (USAF) and GA-ASI test team.
Image courtesy GA-ASI
Upon completion of this initial testing, UK1 will be delivered to the MoD in the summer of 2021 but will remain in the USA to complete the Royal Air Force's test and evaluation program.
"It was exciting to see the first flight of MQ-9B in the Protector configuration," said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. "The Royal Air Force has been a great partner for GA-ASI for more than a decade. We're thrilled to see this first customer aircraft completed, and we look forward to delivering their Protector fleet and gaining more MQ-9B SkyGuardian customers in NATO and around the globe."
MQ-9B is GA-ASI's most advanced RPAS. The RPAS is available as the SkyGuardian, the maritime SeaGuardian® (fitted with a multimode 360-degree field-of-regard Maritime Patrol Radar and optional sonobuoy capability) or, as with the UK Protector, in a special customer-specified configuration. The first MQ-9B customer delivery will be to the UK, but the RPAS has also been selected by the Belgian Defense and Australian Defence Force, with significant interest from customers throughout the world.
"Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer a vastly improved ISTAR capability. Given that it is designed to fly in non-segregated, civil airspace, the Protector RPAS will be able to respond rapidly and offer flexibility, delivering many types of military or civil authority support missions, including search and rescue," said Group Captain Shaun Gee, the RAF's Director Air ISTAR Programmes.
MQ-9B development began in 2014 as a company-funded program to deliver an RPAS to meet NATO's stringent airworthiness type-certification standard (STANAG 4671). STANAG certification will enable SkyGuardian, SeaGuardian and other MQ-9B variants to operate in civil airspace and better perform border patrol, fire detection and firefighting support, maritime patrol, and resource monitoring missions. MQ-9B is provisioned for the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS) to enhance safety of operations in civil and military airspace. The MQ-9B is built for adverse-weather performance with lightning protection, a damage tolerant airframe and a de-icing system.