General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has completed the first flight of the Protector RG Mk1 unmanned aerial system (UAS). Based on the company’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian air vehicle, the Protector is due to be delivered to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence in 2021 for use by the Royal Air Force. This first aircraft, known within GA-ASI as UK1, will be used to support system testing as part of a combined UK Ministry of Defence, U.S. Air Force and GA-ASI test team.
The MQ-9B is GA-ASI’s most advanced unmanned aircraft, available as the SkyGuardian configuration or the maritime SeaGuardian (fitted with a multimode 360-degree field-of-regard Maritime Patrol Radar and optional sonobuoy capability). It can also be configured to specific customer requirements, as with the RAF Protector. In addition to the UK MoD, the MQ-9B has also been selected by the Belgian Defense and Australian Defence Force, and has seen significant interest from customers throughout the world.
Development of the MQ-9B originated as a company-funded program to deliver a UAS that would meet NATO’s stringent airworthiness type-certification standard (STANAG 4671). STANAG certification will enable MQ-9B and its variants to operate in civil airspace for applications such as 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 both civil and military airspace. The platform has been designed for adverse-weather performance with lightning protection, a damage tolerant airframe, and a de-icing system.
David R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI, commented: “It was exciting to see the first flight of MQ-9B in the Protector configuration. 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.”
Group Captain Shaun Gee, the RAF’s Director of Air ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) Programme, said: “Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging 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.”