General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has announced the recent award of a $81M Foreign Military Sales contract by the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center for the United Kingdom (UK) MQ-9B PROTECTOR unmanned aircraft system programme. This contract provides for integration and component level testing for UK specific enhancements to support the MQ-9B PROTECTOR programme. GA-ASI performed the first flight of the MQ-9B configuration less than two years ago, and the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) has continued to meet a series of key qualification milestones.
MQ-9B is the “Certifiable” (STANAG 4671) version of GA-ASI’s 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 certification requirements of various military and civil authorities, including the UK Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the US FAA. MQ-9B is the latest evolution of the multi-mission Predator B fleet. GA-ASI named its baseline MQ-9B SkyGuardian, and the maritime surveillance variant, SeaGuardian.
“MQ-9B represents the next generation of RPA system capabilities,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “It has demonstrated new airborne endurance records (>48 hours) and automatic takeoffs and landings under SATCOM-only control. MQ-9B will also have our currently operational MQ-9 detect and avoid system (with collision-avoidance radar), which will support MQ-9B operations in civil airspace.”
Other important MQ-9B milestones were achieved in 2017, including the first FAA-approved flight for a company-owned RPA through non-segregated airspace without a “chase aircraft,” when the RPA flew from Yuma, Arizona to Gray Butte, California in August 2017.
Upcoming aircraft qualification milestones include lightning protection tests, which are expected within the next 60 days. The aircraft system’s overall qualification schedule remains on track.
A weaponized variant of the system is being acquired by the Royal Air Force (RAF) under the UK’s MQ-9B PROTECTOR programme. The MQ-9B PROTECTOR will fly in excess of 40 hours with airspeeds up to 210 knots, reach altitudes of more than 40,000 feet, and carry 4750lbs (2159 kg) of external payload.
“The UK MOD and RAF are pleased with the progress of their MQ-9B PROTECTOR programme and work continues at pace on the certification aspects of this platform, ahead of achieving a full Military Type Certificate as the platform enters service. Recently-reported Protector procurement schedule adjustments reflect the UK government managing the transition between getting the most out of our current Reaper aircraft, which is helping us defeat Daesh in the Middle East, and moving to the cutting-edge Protector,” said Air Marshal Julian Young, Chief of Materiel (Air) at DE&S. “The Protector programme, which is based on GA-ASI’s SkyGuardian aircraft, is a key capability for the UK, and the MOD and GA-ASI have worked collaboratively to support programme changes, as well as continuing to meet growing interest in this unique capability.”