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Historic Flight Planned For New RAF 'Atlantic Drone'

The aircraft will be known as the Protector RG Mk.1 when it enters service and it can fly non-stop for more than 40 hours.

Cover image: an artist’s impression of the Protector, a new Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) (Picture: MoD).

A new RPAS ordered for the Royal Air Force will fly non-stop from the United States to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, on 11 July.

The aircraft will be known as the Protector RG Mk.1 when it enters service in the early 2020’s.

Operated at all times by a fully qualified pilot, it's the first RPAS to be designed, built and certified against stringent NATO and UK Safety Certification standards equivalent to manned aircraft.

With a wingspan of 79ft, it can fly non-stop for more than 40 hours.

The flight from North Dakota to Gloucestershire is expected to take over 20 hours and will be the first across the Atlantic by a Medium Altitude RPAS.

Currently, the MQ-9 Reaper (pictured above) provides the UK’s Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPAS capability with persistent wide-area surveillance and precision strike capability (Picture: Sergeant Ross Tilly/MoD).

The Protector RG Mk.1 will replace the Reaper with enhanced armed surveillance abilities, including extended range, increased payload and planned integration of UK weapons. 

The Minister for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb, said:

“Protector’s first arrival in the UK is an exciting milestone in our mission to get the most advanced equipment to combat the intensifying threats that we face.

"With almost double the endurance of its predecessor and armed with the latest missiles and surveillance technology, this unmanned aircraft will not only give us a decisive advantage on the battlefield but will help us reach new heights to keep Britain safe at home and overseas.”

Protector is capable of also supporting homeland defence tasks, including military aid to civil authorities – such as search and rescue, disaster monitoring or flood prevention activities.

A developmental version of the Protector was ordered by the RAF (Picture: MoD).

For the first flight across the Atlantic to succeed, the RAF provided guidance, advice and supervision of UK airspace procedures.

Air Vice-Marshal Rochelle, Chief of Staff Capability said:

“The decision to expand our RPAS fleet with this world leading aircraft will offer a game-changing leap in capability and marks the next step in our modernisation in our 100th year.”

After its arrival, the Protector will be placed on display at the Royal International Air Tattoo to represent the future of next-generation RAF air power.

The aircraft flying to the UK will be a civil-registered developmental aircraft.

Whilst known as Protector in RAF service, the aircraft is called SkyGuardian by manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.