General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) is sending an MQ-9B SkyGuardian drone on the first-ever transatlantic flight of a Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). The long-endurance flight will take off from GA-ASI’s Flight Test and Training Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota on July 10 and will land at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England on July 11.
The MQ-9B already made history recently when NASA used one to make the first flight of a large drone through public airspace without the usual safety chase plane, while another also set a new endurance record by staying aloft for over 48 hours. Now GA-ASI is upping the ante by flying one across the Atlantic. Because most of the flightpath will be over the ocean, the baseline MQ-9B SkyGuardian will be equipped with an Inmarsat SwiftBroadband SATCOM to maintain contact with ground control and to confirm that the aircraft is properly configured for automatic takeoff and landing.
The July flight is more than just a technological demonstration, it will also serve as a celebration of multiple milestones. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the world’s oldest independent air force and the arrival of the MQ-9B will be part of the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) airshow being held at RAF Fairford. This will include not only the landing, but a static display of the drone.
In addition, this flight will highlight the 10 years of operation of the MQ-9 Reaper by the RAF marked in 2017, and the completion of 100,000 flight hours of the Reaper with the RAF. In addition, the RAF is buying the MQ-9B SkyGuardian as part of its PROTECTOR RG Mk1 program. According to the company, 300 Reapers operate with NATO forces and have clocked up two million hours between them.
GA-ASI started development of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian in 2012, with the first flight of the aircraft taking place in November 2016. It can reach altitudes of over 40,000 ft (12,200 m) and has a maximum air speed of 210 knots (242 mph, 389 km/h). SkyGuardian is a Type-Certifiable Predator B that has been modified to meet the stringent airworthiness requirements to operate in non-military airspace, NATO airworthiness standards (STANAG-4671), as well as those of other military and civilian authorities, including the British Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the US FAA.
“GA-ASI is proud to have supported the RAF over the past decade with our MQ-9 Reaper. In honor of the RAF100 celebration, and to demonstrate a new standard in RPA flight endurance, we will fly SkyGuardian across the Atlantic,” says Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “Given the distinguished 100 year history of the RAF, we believe that this flight is an appropriate way to celebrate the RAF’s position as a leader in innovation.”