General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) sees the UK and several other nations as potential future customers for a version of its MQ-9B unmanned air vehicle (UAV) adapted for short take-off and landing (STOL) operations.

On 15 November, the company’s Mojave demonstrator was operated from the UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales for the first time, during trials performed off the US East Coast.

Mojave on Prince of Wales

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Mojave demonstrated its STOL capabilities during 15 November trial aboard HMS Prince of Wales

“The Mojave was controlled by an aircrew within a control station onboard the ship,” General Atomics says. “The demonstration included take-off, circuits, and approaches, and ended with a landing back onto the carrier.”

Operations were conducted without using the 65,000t vessel’s ski jump ramp, which is employed when launching embarked Lockheed Martin F-35Bs.

“We applaud the Royal Navy’s foresight in embracing this unprecedented capability for its carriers,” says GA-ASI chief executive Linden Blue. “Seeing our Mojave operate successfully in this environment opens myriad new ways our aircraft can be used to support multi-domain naval operations.”

While the experimental Mojave is an evolution of the company’s Gray Eagle UAV, General Atomics says “a STOL wing set option is being planned for the larger, more capable MQ-9B aircraft, which includes SkyGuardian, SeaGuardian, and the Protector RG1 currently being delivered to the UK Royal Air Force [RAF]”.

In scale terms, the current Mojave has a wingspan of 17m (55ft 8in): 7m shorter than that fitted on the Protector, and 6.3m wider than an F-35B.

“The MQ-9B STOL version is being considered by the Royal Navy and other navies that operate aircraft from large flat-deck warships without catapults and arresting gear,” it says.

Potential roles for an embarked, STOL-capable MQ-9B could include maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, airborne early warning, and surface strike, the company notes.

The RAF in mid-November performed the first flight of a Protector from its Waddington base in Lincolnshire. The service will field 16 of the long-endurance aircraft by mid-2025, to replace its MQ-9A Reaper fleet.

RAF Protector landing

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The RAF’s new Protector RG1 has a 24m wingspan