General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) has concluded the construction and conducted the maiden flight of the first production representative MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

The first flight of this aircraft was conducted at GA-ASI’s Flight Operations Facility located in El Mirage, California, US.

GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue said: “With first flight of the production-representative aircraft, we remain on schedule for delivering MQ-9B Protector to the RAF.

“Protector revolutionises the long-endurance RPA market by providing true all-weather capability, and NATO-standard Type-Certification to enable flexible operations in civil airspace.”

Protector RG Mk1 will be procured for the British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) configuration of the SkyGuardian aircraft.

Known as BC03 within GA-ASI, the new SkyGuardian has been developed for ground and flight testing to collect airworthiness certification data.

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The collection of data will begin with flight loads and aircraft performance testing.

Tests results will form the Type Certification Exposition needed to achieve the Military Type Certificate for the Protector platform.

RAF Group Protector RG Mk1 programme director Captain Shaun Gee said: “As the lead customer, we are tracking all of the important developments of this ground-breaking, remotely-piloted aircraft.

“The Military Type Certificate is a particularly important milestone because it’s a foundational step towards the Protector RPA being approved to fly in unsegregated airspace.”

The MQ-9B multi-mission aircraft has been designed for all-weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system.

The newly developed SkyGuardian and the maritime SeaGuardian feature a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS).

GA-ASI president David Alexander said that BC03 will be followed by BC04, the first Protector aircraft to be delivered to the RAF.

Alexander added: “Production has already begun on BC04 and prior to delivery, it will be used for Combined System Test and weapons testing.”

Under Project Air 7003, the Australian Government has also selected MQ-9B for the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Additionally, the Government of Belgium has approved Belgian Defense to negotiate the acquisition of GA-ASI’s MQ-9B.