A SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft, which will become the backbone of the future Royal Air Force, safely touched-down at RAF Fairford just after 7pm on Thursday after an epic 24hr, 2minute flight from South Dakota in the US. It will now be on static display at the Royal International Air Tattoo over this weekend, 29th and 30th July.
The flight to RAF Fairford achieved many world firsts. It is the first Trans-Atlantic 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 12hr shifts as the aircraft flew over Canada, across the Atlantic and around Southern Ireland, before reaching the UK mainland in west Wales.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian, currently being developed by US-manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is the latest version of the General Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted air system which the RAF has operated successfully over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. This latest variant will go on to form the basis of the RAF’s new Protector system, due to enter service in early 2020s.
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.”
RIAT 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.”
The SkyGuardian will be on static display for the duration of the airshow outside the Techno Zone, which focuses on bringing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), subjects to life through interactive activities and exhibits.
Photos: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems