The first production-representative MQ-9B SkyGuardian has been rolled out of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc’s (GA-ASI) facility in California.
The aircraft has been configured in the Protector RG Mk1 configuration as ordered by the UK’s RAF, and is a company-owned aircraft designed to test, validate, and certify that aircraft’s systems. The SkyGuardian is a commercially-offered derivative of the MQ-9 Reaper as operated by the USAF and other nations, and will also form the basis for the RAAF’s version of the MQ-9B, 16 of which are on order under Project AIR 7003.
“With first flight of the production-representative aircraft, we remain on schedule for delivering MQ-9B Protector to the RAF,” GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue said in a statement. “Protector revolutionises the long-endurance RPA market by providing true all-weather capability, and NATO-standard type-certification to enable flexible operations in civil airspace.”
The SkyGuardian differs from Reaper in several key areas. Visually it features a longer wingspan giving it greater endurance, de-icing in the leading edge and engine intake, lightning protection, a four-bladed propeller, and a re-profiled nose which carries the due-regard radar which will allow it to fly in controlled airspace.
Internally, SkyGuardian will be able to be integrated with various indigenous sensor payloads and possibly weapons from customer nations that won’t necessarily be subject to strict US international treaty in arms regulations (ITARS) controls.