Protector gives RAF Reaper force glimpse into the future

The Remotely Piloted Aircraft System has flown to Creech Air Force Base, United States.

The Protector aircraft at Creech Air Force Base (Picture: RAF).

The RAF's remotely-controlled aircraft specialists have seen the Protector up-close for the first time.

The UK is replacing the current Reaper aircraft with the 16 Protector RG Mk1, a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS).

The new aircraft travelled from Arizona to Creech Air Force Base to display its capabilities to the RAF's 39 Squadron, based in Nevada, including automatic take-off and landing and taxiing capabilities.

Air Vice Marshal Harv Smyth, Air Officer Commanding No.1 Group, believes the Protector is a suitable fit in the "next-generation Air Force".

He said: "This idea that we'll have an RPAS that can operate anywhere at any time in controlled airspace alongside airliners is an absolutely game-changing capability."

Built to fly for 40 hours non-stop, the Protector can gather information and deliver precise kinetic effect – equipped with the Brimstone missile system.

Having seen the aircraft, Air Vice Marshal Smyth believes these capabilities will offer the RAF an "information advantage" in operational locations.

Up until the visit, the Protector "had only appeared on paper" for 39 Squadron (Picture: RAF).

Until this first-hand encounter, members of 39 Squadron had only seen pictures and read about the latest addition to the aircraft. 

Alongside XIII Squadron in Waddington, the personnel at Creech AFB are one of two teams to operate the Reaper – which is being replaced by the Protector.

Flight Sergeant 'M' said: "I've heard a lot about Protector so am now really looking forward to seeing it for myself."

The squadron witnessed the latest Ground Control System and a demonstration of how the Mission Intelligence Coordinator and the crew will interact through a new system.

Wing Commander Colin Welsh, Officer Commanding 39 Squadron, was impressed by the ability to transfer the capabilities of the operation-tested Reaper and apply them to a platform in line with new radar technology.

He said:

"It takes everything that's great about Reaper and adds a whole bundle of capabilities."