First Protector RG1 handed over to the RAF

Acceptance Test Procedures (ATP) for the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) first General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B Protector RG1 remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) have been completed.

Completion of ATP was announced on October 6 by both the manufacturer and RAF, allowing for the official handover of the first aircraft (serial PR005) to the British air arm, which is the launch customer of the MQ-9B RPAS. The Protector RG1 is a specially configured model of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and has been designed to meet the unique requirements of the RAF. Having been transferred to the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), the aircraft will now fly with its UK military serial number, PR005, under a UK Military Permit to Fly. UK certification is anticipated in 2024.

The aircraft was accepted by AVM Simon Ellard, Director Combat Air at Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence. He said: “It was a great pleasure to accept the official handover of the first Protector aircraft on behalf of the MOD, following the successful completion of Acceptance Test Procedures. We now look forward to the first delivery of this highly capable aircraft type to RAF Waddington during 2023.”

RAF Protector RG1
The UK's first Protector RG1 (serial PR005), which has now been handed over to the RAF. MOD Crown Copyright

RAF Air Cdre Alex Hicks added: “The acceptance of the first Protector aircraft is a significant and exciting milestone in the delivery of this world-class capability to the RAF. The aircraft will be used to train RAF technicians how to maintain the capability, prior to the arrival of the first aircraft in the UK next year.”

ATP was performed jointly by the UK MOD and GA-ASI over the past two months following the completion of the aircraft production and acceptance procedures. ATP includes all inspections and tests performed on the hardware in operation for the aircraft and in conformance with the functional specification and technical requirements. Over the past two months, ATP has been performed at GA-ASI’s Desert Horizon flight operations facility in El Mirage, California. The aircraft will remain in the US to support maintenance and pilot training.

ATP was also completed on the first two sets of Portable Pre-flight and Post-flight Equipment (P3Es). P3E is laptop size ground support equipment that enables SATCOM Automatic Taxi, Take-off and Landing Capability from anywhere in the world, greatly reducing the personnel and equipment fielding footprint. This game-changing capability eliminates forward based launch and recovery crew/hardware/maintainers, as well as providing agile deployment with emergency divert field landing. Additionally, the P3E doubles as ground support equipment when directly connected to the aircraft.

GA-ASI President David R Alexander said: “This is another major milestone for MQ-9B and the Protector programme. The RAF has been a great partner for General Atomics and we’re thrilled to see ATP completed for this first customer aircraft.”

MQ-9B represents the next generation of RPA systems, having demonstrated airborne endurance of more than 40 hours in certain configurations, as well as a GA-ASI developed Detect and Avoid system. Its development is the result of a company-funded effort to deliver an RPA that can meet the stringent airworthiness certification requirements of various military and civil authorities.

MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. After the UK MOD selected MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its Protector programme, the Belgian Ministry of Defence signed a contract for SkyGuardian. Later this year, the Japan Coast Guard will begin operations using the MQ-9B in the SeaGuardian configuration.