General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is confident about progress with its MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAV as it approaches deliveries for the UK Royal Air Force's Protector programme.

The US company announced that the aircraft has operated more than 100 test flights since its maiden sortie in November 2016. Flights have included long-endurance testing, as well as a long-range transit across the Atlantic in July 2018. A second MQ-9B was added to the test campaign in September 2018.

London will acquire at least 20 examples for the RAF.

General Atomics president of aircraft systems David Alexander says that the MQ-9B accomplished full expeditionary satcom launch and recovery in March. This means that the aircraft can deploy to, and operate from, a remote airfield without a large control station and personnel accompanying it.

Should the satellite network be unavailable, the aircraft has a dual redundant system: if one satcom link fails, the aircraft can switch to another. Should both drop out, the aircraft can return to its home airfield autonomously.

The ultimate objective is to obtain full UK military type certification by July 2023. Protector will be the world's first certificated UAV to operate in unsegregated airspace.

"There's no rest for these aircraft," says Alexander. "They're built to remain aloft for long periods of time performing the important missions our customers require. SkyGuardian is customisable with nine hardpoints and payloads to meet customer requirements. Just another reason why we're getting so much interest from international customers."

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