General Atomics' MQ−9B SkyGuardian UAV completed the first ever transatlantic flight of a medium-altitude long range (MALE) UAV.
The unmanned aerial vehicle touched down at RAF Fairford, UK landing, via Canada, Ireland, and Wales after a 3,760 nautical mile sortie from the US in 24 hours.
The journey was the first flight of both the SkyGuardian and any MALE UAV. L3 Technologies Communication Systems provided Ku-band satellite communication (SATCOM) to control the UAV throughout the flight with no handover to a control station in the UK, Inmarsat, a British Satellite company provided a backup L-band SATCOM capability, .
A line-of-sight ground control station was shipped to Fairford to carry out its automatic landing.
"The transit demonstrates that the UAV is self-deploying. The aircraft is yet to go through certification testing and will not be delivered to the RAF until the early 2020s," Jonny King, vice-president of GA-ASI UK was quoted as saying by DefenseNews Friday.
The UK is expected to acquire the drone under its 'protector' program, which is a combination of foreign military sales (FMS) and direct commercial sales deals with the United States. The Protector will fly alongside manned aircraft, said Air Marshal Julian Young, chief of materiel for air, defense equipment and support for the Royal Air Force.
The RAF plans to equip the UAV with MBDA’s Brimstone ground attack missile and Raytheon UK Paveway IV laser-guided bombs, although contracts for these have also not yet been signed.