The United Kingdom’s General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Protector is set to become the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in its class to cross the Atlantic Ocean, when it makes its public debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in early July.
The test prototype of the Protector medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV will fly the nearly-6,500 km from GA-ASI’s Flight Test and Training Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford, Gloucestershire, both the manufacturer and the event organisers announced on 25 June.
Departing the United States on 10 July, the Protector is scheduled to arrive in the UK the following day. Once at RIAT, it will be shown in static display from 13 to 15 July. It has not been disclosed what will happen to the aircraft after the event, but it is likely it will return to the US for further trials ahead of the type’s planned introduction into RAF service in 2024.
In announcing the type’s first visit to the UK to coincide with the RAF’s centenary celebrations, the RIAT organisers disclosed that the platform’s designation in operational service will be Protector RG (reconnaissance and ground attack) 1. This designation is telling in two respects; firstly, it indicates that the aircraft will primarily be employed for reconnaissance, with ground attack being a secondary role; while secondly the lack of any reference to its unmanned nature shows that the RAF plans to operate it just as it would any other of its platforms.
One of the key reasons that the UK has chosen to replace its current MQ-9 Reaper UAVs with the Protector is that the newer platform will be able to operate in controlled airspace (where the ‘Certifiable’ comes from in its original company moniker). For its visit to RIAT, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has approved its flight in national airspace, although a number of temporary restrictions have been put in place for other traffic to ensure its safe arrival.
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