Aircraft

UK's First Protector Aircraft Completes Maiden Flight

It is the latest milestone for the Protector, which will replace the Reaper force when it is introduced to the frontline.

The UK's first Protector RG Mk1 aircraft has completed its inaugural flight since coming off the production line.

The aircraft took to the skies in the United States on 25 September.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems was awarded the £65 million Ministry of Defence (MOD) contract to build the aircraft in July.

The company will also build three control stations and support equipment as part of the deal.

Due to enter service by mid-2024, the Protector RG Mk1, the British variant of the MQ-9B, will be capable of being flown anywhere in the world while being operated by personnel located at their Lincolnshire home base of RAF Waddington.

It will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, precision-strike weapons - the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and the Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK).

The fleet will also have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection, providing the RAF with flexibility to operate in adverse weather conditions.

Defence minister Jeremy Quin said Protector's maiden flight is an "exciting and welcome step".

The first Protector will be delivered to the MOD in the summer of 2021 (Picture: RAF).

"With increased range and endurance, greater ISR and weapons capacity and improved weather resilience, Protector will play a vital intelligence and deterrent role in countering future threats," he said.

This first Protector aircraft will remain in the US to support system testing before it is delivered to the MOD in the summer of 2021.

It is the first of the three Protector aircraft currently on order, although the contract includes an option for another 13 aircraft to complete the currently planned fleet of 16 - doubling the current capability provided by Reaper.

Group Captain Shaun Gee, the RAF’s Director Air Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Programmes, said the Protector will offer a "vastly improved ISTAR capability".

"Given that it is designed to fly in non-segregated, civil airspace, the Protector RPAS will be able to respond rapidly and offer flexibility, delivering many types of military or civil authority support missions, including search and rescue," he said.

The first aircraft delivery to the RAF will be in 2023.

Last month, the UK and Belgium agreed to look at ways they can work together on the new Protector drone programme.

Cover image: The UK's first Protector aircraft during its maiden flight in the US (Picture: RAF).