General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) has announced that its MQ-9B SkyGuardian Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) has successfully completed the first-ever trans-Atlantic flight of a MALE RPA. The unmanned aircraft took off from Grand Forks, North Dakota and landed at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK. 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), and to commemorate the event GA-ASI flew the SkyGuardian to RAF Fairford, where the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) airshow will be held from 13 – 15 July. SkyGuardian will be on static display during the show. The RAF is acquiring MQ-9B for its PROTECTOR RG Mk1 program.
MQ-9B is the new generation of GA-ASI’s multi-mission Predator B product line. The company named its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian, and the maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian. MQ-9B is a “certifiable” (STANAG 4671-compliant) version of the Predator B product line. Its development is the result of a five-year, company-funded effort to deliver a RPA system that can meet the stringent airworthiness type-certification requirements of various military and civil authorities, including the UK Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the U.S. 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.”
Inmarsat Government supported GA-ASI’s flight with its L-band SATCOM service, SwiftBroadband, which provided resilient, seamless backup-connectivity throughout the duration of the flight. SkyGuardian and its North Dakota-based ground control station used SATCOM to communicate with and control the aircraft, to include the command for automatic landing at Fairford.
“Inmarsat has been servicing the demanding ‘anywhere, anytime’ nature of airborne operations for decades, and is the market leader in providing reliable, global, mobile L- and Ka-band connectivity,” said Kai Tang, chief commercial officer, Inmarsat Government. “Reliable SATCOM is a critical enabler for any mission, and this trans-Atlantic flight test has vividly highlighted its importance. This is a truly historical event made possible by ingenuity and impressive integration and engineering from the GA team, and Inmarsat is very proud to be a part of it.”
The service also provides full flexibility in route selection for the long-endurance flight, while supporting mission-critical and time-sensitive data transmission, including imagery and video.