General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has flown its MQ-9B SeaGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) from Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington, England to RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland during the first U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)-approved point-to-point domestic flight of an unmanned aircraft while being controlled by NATS, the U.K.’s civilian Air Navigation Service Provider.
SeaGuardian is the maritime version of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian. The GA-ASI-owned, civil-registered aircraft is operating from RAF airfields as part of an ongoing set of demonstrations being conducted by GA-ASI for the RAF, who have ordered a Protector RG Mk1 system that is based on the MQ-9B.
The goal of the flight series has been to showcase the many operational capabilities of the MQ-9B, including the platform’s advanced maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), industry-leading endurance, and interoperability with NATO partners. The demos will culminate in the completion of Exercise Joint Warrior.
Among the aircraft’s capabilities on display is GA-ASI’s Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, a safety and situational awareness enhancement designed to support Protector’s flight in non-segregated U.K. airspace, as well as the platform’s capability to integrate into broader European airspace.
DAA will enable Protector to operate amongst normal aviation traffic in the U.K.’s national airspace, unlike any other aircraft in its class. The demonstration flights are also assisting RAF Waddington, the future home of the RAF Protector Force, to prepare and integrate the new aircraft into its daily operations.
“The Airspace Coordination Notice issued by the CAA for this series of demonstration flights in U.K. airspace is the largest and most meticulous we have ever produced so that the airspace integration of SeaGuardian is at the highest level of safety,” said Tom Gratton, CAA Airspace Regulator.
“We appreciate the cooperation and collaboration with the CAA and NATS in helping to move the industry forward,” added GA-ASI Vice President of International Strategic Development Robert Schoeffling. “This successful flight paves the way not only for future operations of Protector in U.K. airspace, but also for other civil and commercial Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) flights.”
Mark Watson, Head of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) Service Integration for NATS, noted that the flight was controlled through more complex airspace than any previous UAS flights in the U.K. “This flight required that we transfer control between multiple civil airspace sectors. The procedures for this flight were close to what we do already with conventional crewed aircraft. This helped us validate that our existing methods of control are equally applicable to controlling remotely crewed aircraft – when the aircraft performs like SeaGuardian.”