RAF modifies pilot training for Reaper, Protector

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has unveiled a new, improved personnel training pathway for unmanned aerial system (UAS) pilots ahead of the arrival of its new Protector RG1 platform.

The new system will see personnel selected to fly the MQ-9A Reaper spend six weeks at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ (GA-ASI’s) Flight Test and Training Center in North Dakota. While there, student pilots will learn about basic aircraft and ground school operations. This will initially run in parallel to additional training that will take place at Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico.

RAF MQ-9A Reaper [MoD Crown Copyright/Cpl Steve Follows] #1
An RAF-operated MQ-9A Reaper prepares to take off for a mission in Afghanistan in March 2011. MoD Crown Copyright/Cpl Steve Follows

Following the completion of this phase, student pilots will then join No 39 Squadron at Creech AFB, Nevada, to undertake more advanced training. UK-specific Reaper training, such as rules of engagement and safety procedures, was previously provided by No 54 Squadron. However, that mission has since been absorbed by No 39 Squadron.

After training has concluded and the student pilot has been declared combat ready, they are able to fly operational sorties without supervision.

A similar training process will be used for the RAF’s future MQ-9B SkyGuardian fleet, which will be designated the Protector RG1 in service. The platform is expected to begin operations in 2024 from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. When operational, the UAS will provide an intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR) mission, both internationally and domestically.

It will be the first RAF-operated unmanned aircraft that is able to support civilian agencies in UK airspace, being used in support of search and rescue (SAR) and humanitarian relief/disaster response (HR/DR) missions. The RAF currently has 16 examples on order but has options to procure ten more.