A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems SkyGuardian drone made history today by becoming the first Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to complete a transatlantic flight. At 6:51 pm BST, the unmanned aircraft touched down at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England after a flight of 3,760 nm (4,327 mi, 6,963 km) from Grand Forks, North Dakota that took 24 hours and two minutes.
The flight of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian was not only intended as a demonstration of the capabilities of the GA-ASI's latest iteration of the Reaper RPA, but also to help commemorate the centenary of the Royal Air Force. The RAF has operated the Reaper for over a decade and recently agreed to purchase the MQ-9B, which will be designated the Protector RG Mk1.
The MQ-9B has a wingspan of 79 ft (24 m) and is powered by a Honeywell TPE331-10 Turboprop engine providing 45 kVA. It can carry a payload of 4,750 lb (2,155 kg), has a maximum air speed of 210 knots (242 mph, 389 km/h), and an endurance of over 40 hours at altitudes of up to 40,000 ft (12,200 m).
In addition, the aircraft has been modified to meet the stringent airworthiness requirements to operate in non-military airspace, and NATO airworthiness standards (STANAG-4671), along with other military and civilian authorities, including the British Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the US FAA.
"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 (CAA), the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and our UK industry partners such as Cobham."
The MQ-9B will now be placed on static display as part of the Royal International Air Tattoo running from July 13 to 15.
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