The weather-capable MQ-9B SkyGuardian RPA is powered by a single 900-horsepower Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine with digital electronic engine control, and incorporates robust features like de-icing/anti-icing systems, a damage-tolerant airframe, and a fire-protected engine bay (Image source: GA-ASI).

General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian lands at RAF Fairford, makes history

The SkyGuardian is the first medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft to complete a trans-Atlantic flight.
A remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), or drone, produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) made history as it landed at the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucestershire, England yesterday. It is the first medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) RPA to successfully complete a trans-Atlantic flight.

The aircraft was an MQ-9B SkyGuardian owned and operated by San Diego-based GA-ASI. It took off from the company’s Flight Test and Training Center in Grand Forks, N.D. on July 10, 2018 at 12:48 p.m. (CDT). It landed at RAF Fairford at 6:51 p.m. (GMT+1) on July 11, 2018, covering a totally of 3,760 nautical miles in 24 hour and 2 minutes.

Footage of the historic trans-Atlantic flight launch sequence from General Atomics's Flight Test and Training Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

“This historic event was a demonstration of the endurance and civil airspace capability of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, and it is fitting to do this as part of the centennial celebration of the RAF,” says Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “The successful flight of the MQ-9B is the culmination of the hard work and innovation of our dedicated employees, and the strong relationships that we enjoy with the RAF, the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and our UK industry partners such as Cobham.”

RAF Fairford will be the site of the RIAT airshow from July 13 through 15. The MQ-9B will be on static display during the show.

Over the past 10 years, the RAF has operated GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Reaper RPA in support of the NATO and Coalition operations. The RAF is celebrating its 100-year anniversary – RAF100 – so GA-ASI seized the opportunity to fly the newest MQ-9 version, MQ-9B to RIAT. The RAF configuration of MQ-9B will be called PROTECTOR RG Mk1.

MQ-9B is the next generation of GA-ASI’s multi-mission Predator B fleet. Its development is the result of a five-year, company-funded effort to deliver an RPA that can meet the stringent airworthiness type-certification requirements of various military and civil authorities, including the United Kingdom Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Type-certification, together with an extensively tested collision avoidance system, will allow unrestricted operations in all classes of civil airspace.

“The SkyGuardian trans-Atlantic flight is a significant and exciting event for both GA-ASI and for the future capability of the RAF. Cobham is proud to have a teaming agreement with GA-ASI for logistics and maintenance services, which builds on our present support of the Reaper Ground Control Stations.  We look forward to working with both GA-ASI and the RAF as the PROTECTOR RG Mk1 comes into service,” says Paul Armstrong, senior VP of Cobham Aviation Services UK.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at
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