Game of Drones: First trans-Atlantic drone flight is set to leave from North Dakota.
Officials say the first trans-Atlantic flight by a medium-altitude; long-endurance unmanned aircraft is set to take off from an aviation park in North Dakota. The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. drone is scheduled to leave from the Grand Sky Park at the Grand Forks Air Force Base Tuesday afternoon. The flight will cover more than 3,000miles before landing in Gloucestershire, England, where the Royal Air Force is holding its centennial celebration. The aircraft is an MQ-9B, which is 38 feet long with a wingspan of 79 feet . The plane recently flew continuously for more than 48 hours. General Atomics spokeswoman Melissa Haynes says the flight is meant demonstrate the technology that allows the plane to fly alongside private and commercial aircraft.
The RAF is due to bring into service the UK variant of MQ-9B SkyGuardian, known as PROTECTOR RG Mk1, which will increase its long-range surveillance and precision strike capabilities. A spokesman for the CAA said: "The CAA supports the safe development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in the UK as they can bring many benefits. "We have worked closely with General Atomics, NATS and the armed forces to safely accommodate the SkyGuardian into UK airspace." General Atomics Aeronautical Systems plans to make the first-ever transatlantic flight of a Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). GA-ASI’s company-owned MQ-9B SkyGuardian RPA is scheduled to fly from the company’s flight test and training centre in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK. The aircraft will then be on static display July 13-15 for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) airshow being held at RAF Fairford. The flight and display will commemorate the RAF’s centenary celebration (RAF100).
In 2017, GA-ASI and the RAF marked the 10-year anniversary of RAF MQ-9 operations, which coincided with the RAF completing 100,000 flight hours with its Reaper force. The entire Reaper fleet has completed over two million flight hours to date and is comprised of over 300 aircraft within the NATO alliance. The RAF is acquiring MQ-9B SkyGuardian as part of its PROTECTOR RG Mk1 programme. MQ-9B is the latest evolution of GA-ASI’s multi-mission Predator B fleet. GA-ASI named its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian, and the maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian. MQ-9B is a “certifiable” (STANAG 4671-compliant) version of the MQ-9 Predator B product line. Its development is the result of a five-year, company-funded effort to deliver a RPA that can meet the stringent airworthiness type-certification requirements of various military and civil authorities, including the UK Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) and the US FAA type-certification, together with an extensively tested collision avoidance system, will allow unrestricted operations in all classes of civil airspace. Several important MQ-9B milestones were achieved in recent months, including the first FAA-approved flight for a company-owned RPA through non-segregated civil airspace without a chase aircraft, and an endurance record of more than 48 hours of continuous flight. As part of the transatlantic flight, GA-ASI has partnered with global mobile satellite communications (SATCOM) services provider Inmarsat whose SwiftBroadband SATCOM will be used by the MQ-9B’s ground control station to communicate and control the aircraft and also will be used in the RPA’s final configuration for capabilities such as automatic takeoff and landing.