Air Tattoo world first for remotely piloted aircraft

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A remotely piloted aircraft that is to become the backbone of the future Royal Air Force has safely touched down at the Royal International Air Tattoo. The MQ-9B SkyGuardian, which is currently being developed by US-manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, touched down on schedule shortly before 7pm at RAF Fairford after an epic 24-hour, two-minute flight from North Dakota. The aircraft will go on to form the basis of the RAF’s new Protector system, due to enter service in the early 2020s.

 The flight to RAF Fairford has achieved a number of major firsts. It is the first transatlantic flight performed by a medium-altitude remotely-piloted aircraft and the first to be entirely controlled by satellite communications in British airspace. The aircraft was controlled by pilots sitting in North Dakota taking 12 hour shifts as the aircraft flew over Canada, across the Atlantic and around southern Ireland before reaching the UK mainland in west Wales.

The SkyGuardian is the latest version of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted air system which the Royal Air Force (RAF) has operated successfully over Afghanistan and is currently flying on operations over Iraq and Syria.

 Just hours before the SkyGuardian arrived, the Royal Air Force Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier announced in London that the first RAF unit to operate the Protector will be 31 Squadron, which currently flies the Panavia Tornado. Air Vice Marshal Julian Young, Chief of Materiel (Air) at the Defence Equipment & Support agency said: “Protector features world-beating characteristics that we are bringing into service as the lead customer and this aircraft will be a game-changer like none other. One hundred years of experience is being applied to this world-leading capability.”

Air Tattoo Chief Executive Andy Armstrong said: “Air Tattoo has a proud history of featuring aviation firsts. It’s appropriate that on the RAF’s centenary – we present not only aircraft from the RAF’s illustrious past and present but also offer a rare glimpse of its future.”

 

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