General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc’s (GA-ASI) SkyGuardian drone set out today on its historic transatlantic flight. At 12:48 pm CDT, the MQ-9B Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) took off from the company’s Flight Test and Training Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota and is on its way to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England.
If successful, the flight will mark the first time a MALE RPA aircraft has made a transatlantic flight. It will not only serve as a technological demonstration of the latest iteration of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, but will also be put on static display at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) airshow running from July 13 to 15. This is to help commemorate 100 years of the Royal Air Force, which has placed an initial order of 16 MQ-9Bs for its PROTECTOR RG Mk1 program.
Development of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian started in 2012. It can reach altitudes of over 40,000 ft (12,200 m) and has a maximum air speed of 210 knots (242 mph, 389 km/h). SkyGuardian is a Type-Certifiable Predator B modified to meet the stringent airworthiness requirements to operate in non-military airspace, NATO airworthiness standards (STANAG-4671), along with other military and civilian authorities, including the British Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the US FAA.