RAF showcased the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, a prototype of its upcoming Protector, in preparation for thedrone’s entry into service.
Aircraft’s latest demonstrational flight was performed on September 9, 2021, at Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington base, where the fleet of Protectors is going to be housed.
The base is also going to have special operating and training facilities, all costing nearly £100 million, built in the coming years.
The Protector is expected to enter service with theRAF by 2024. 16 such aircraft are currently on order with General Atomics, not counting the pre-production example.
The aircraft is a modified General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, adapted for British service and complete with UK-made Brimstone air-to-ground missiles. It is set to replace the RAF’s fleet of regular MQ-9 Reapers.
RAF claims the Protector is a MALE (medium-altitude long-endurance) drone of the next generation, offering significant upgrades to every aspect of the aircraft.
The SkyGuardian prototype flew to the UK from the United States in summer 2020, becoming the first MALE drone to cross the Atlantic on its own. It has been performing tests at RAF Waddington ever since.