General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has completed construction of and tested the first production-representative MQ-9B SkyGuardian unmanned aerial system (UAS). The aircraft’s first flight was performed at GA-ASI’s Flight Operations Facility in El Mirage, California.
This first SkyGuardian aircraft, known within GA-ASI as BC03, is being used by GA-ASI for ground and flight testing to collect airworthiness certification data, including flight loads and aircraft performance testing. The results from these tests will form the Type Certification Exposition needed to achieve the Military Type Certificate for the United Kingdom Royal Air Force (RAF) Protector program, which is based on the SkyGuardian.
BC03 will be followed by BC04 (also known as UK1), which will be the first Protector aircraft to be delivered to the RAF. According to GA-ASI President David R. Alexander, production has already begun on BC04, and prior to delivery, it will be used for Combined System Test and weapons testing.
MQ-9B has also been selected by the Australian Government for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) under Project Air 7003. The Government of Belgium has also approved Belgian Defense to negotiate the acquisition of the MQ-9B. The multi-mission unmanned aircraft is built for all-weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system. Both SkyGuardian and its maritime variant SeaGuardian feature a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS).
Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI, commented: “With first flight of the production-representative aircraft, we remain on schedule for delivering MQ-9B Protector to the RAF. Protector revolutionizes the long-endurance RPA market by providing true all-weather capability, and NATO-standard Type-Certification to enable flexible operations in civil airspace.”
RAF Group Captain Shaun Gee, Protector RG Mk1 Programme Director, stated: “As the lead customer, we are tracking all of the important developments of this ground-breaking, remotely-piloted aircraft. The Military Type Certificate is a particularly important milestone because it’s a foundational step towards the Protector RPA being approved to fly in unsegregated airspace.”