The Royal Air Force's new Protector aircraft has completed key tests in its development in the United States.
A total of 16 Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), which have also been known as SkyGuardian, are currently on order for the RAF but, before delivery, a series of rigorous tests has been undertaken.
In July 2020, the UK signed a £65m contract to build its first three Protector drones which are set to enter service by mid-2024, replacing the RAF's current fleet of Reaper drones.
Tests included a full-scale static strength test which saw all the major structures in the aircraft put under stress.
The full fuselage, wings, tails and landing gear were tested to 150% of the highest operational loads to verify their safety and reliability when operated at maximum airspeeds and G-loads.
Environmental testing was undertaken at a laboratory in Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and included exposing the system to extreme cold temperature (to -33°C), in-flight ice, supercooled fog, in-flight rain, high humidity, and high temperature.
The first Protector is expected to complete its test and evaluation programme in late 2022.
RAF Waddington will be the base for Protector where, initially, 31 Squadron, and then 13 Squadron, will operate them.