The UK Royal Air Force’s first MQ-9B Protector drone has completed its maiden flight in Lincoln.
During the test, the aircraft was deployed from the RAF Waddington airfield and was guided by a human operator in a ground-based cockpit.
The milestone followed the aircraft’s handover to the service in October as part of a contract signed with General Atomics in 2020.
In 2021, the UK ordered 13 additional MQ-9Bs, increasing the future Protector fleet to 16.
‘A Key Moment’
The MQ-9B is now conducting trials to prepare for field operations upon induction, the air force wrote.
The system’s tasks will include maritime and land surveillance, counter-terrorism, and civil authority support.
Furthermore, the military will leverage the drone to aid search and rescue missions spearheaded by HM Coastguard, the British government’s national maritime emergency segment.
“At DE&S one of our key drivers is strengthening operations by providing cutting-edge equipment into the hands of our Armed Forces,” UK Defence Equipment & Support Remotely Piloted Air Systems Head Simon Holford stated.
“Seeing the first UK Protector take flight on UK soil is a key moment along that journey to our goal.”
Supporting EU Airspace
The UK’s future MQ-9B fleet is scheduled to enter service by 2025. Upon delivery and necessary trials, the drones will replace the Royal Air Force’s Reaper MQ-9As, operational for over 15 years.
In addition to domestic intelligence, target acquisition, and reconnaissance, the Protectors will be evaluated for NATO standards and other safety certifications for civilian airspace in Europe.