General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has announced the maiden flight of the first production-representative MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).
The first flight of this aircraft took place on March 30 at GA-ASI’s Flight Operations Facility in El Mirage, California.
“With first flight of the production-representative aircraft, we remain on schedule for delivering MQ-9B Protector to the RAF,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. Protector RG Mk1 is being procured for the UK Royal Air Force’s configuration of SkyGuardian. “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”.
The new SkyGuardian, known within GA-ASI as BC03, is a company aircraft that is being utilized for ground and flight testing to collect airworthiness certification data starting with flight loads and aircraft performance testing. The results from the tests will form the Type Certification Exposition needed to achieve the Military Type Certificate for the Protector platform.
“As the lead customer, we are tracking all of the important developments of this ground-breaking, remotely-piloted aircraft,” said RAF Group Captain Shaun Gee, Protector RG Mk1 Programme Director. “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.”
According to GA-ASI President David R. Alexander, BC03 will be followed by BC04 (also known as UK1), which will be the first Protector aircraft to be delivered to the RAF. “Production has already begun on BC04 and prior to delivery, it will be used for Combined System Test and weapons testing,” said Alexander.
MQ-9B SkyGuardian is a variant of the MQ-9A Reaper/Predator B RPA developed by GA-ASI in order to make it compliant with flight regulations for operation within civilian airspace. The aircraft was previously called Certifiable Predator B.
The MQ-9B was built from the ground up to meet global airworthiness standards including NATO STANAG 4671 airworthiness requirements. The multi-mission aircraft is built for all-weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system.
MQ-9B is highly modular and is easily configured with a variety of payloads to meet mission requirements. The aircraft is capable of carrying multiple mission payloads and includes a state-of-the-art Detect and Avoid (DAA) system including space, weight, and power (SWaP) provisions to enable the retrofitting of an airborne Due Regard Radar (DRR) for operation in non-cooperative airspace. The RPAS system also includes a completely redesigned & modernized integrated ground control station with 4 crew stations.
The weaponized version of the SkyGuardian will be able to carry precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and air-to-ground missiles (AGMs). The SeaGuardian is a proposed maritime version of SkyGuardian fitted with Multimode 360 Maritime Surface Search Radar and Automatic identification system (AIS).
In addition to the RAF, MQ-9B has 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 GA-ASI’s MQ-9B.