Watch the First Protector Aircraft of the Royal Air Force arrive majestically at RAF Waddington and experience aviation history

The first of 16 Protector aircraft, the Royal Air Force’s latest Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS), has arrived at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. Equipped with a suite of surveillance equipment, Protector brings a critical global surveillance capability for the RAF. Remotely piloted from RAF Waddington it can operate at heights up to 40,000 feet and has an endurance of over 30 hours. Arriving last month, 31 Squadron have assembled the aircraft and are preparing it for ground and air testing ahead of its anticipated In-Service date later in 2024. The first phase of Protector testing at RAF Waddington will involve ground testing of the satellite links and taxi procedures as well as take-off and landing procedures which will incorporate a circuit above RAF Waddington. Arrival of 15 further aircraft into the UK will be a phased delivery. In addition to accepting the operational roles currently undertaken by Reaper, which has provided exceptional service on operations around the clock for over 15 years, Protector will be certified to stringent NATO safety and certification standards allowing to operate in the UK and European civilian airspace.

“The UK’s world-class Protector will emphasise our ultra-modern surveillance and intelligence capabilities, ready to deploy against potential adversaries around the globe. With the first aircraft at RAF Waddington ready to begin trials, we will once again demonstrate we are spearheading military defence technology,” James Cartlidge Minister for Defence Procurement said.

“The arrival of the UK’s first Protector to the Royal Air Force is the culmination of years of work by many personnel across the whole of the MOD. The ISR Capability Team will be working with 56 Squadron, our test and evaluation experts, will put the aircraft through its paces to ensure it is ready for operational service next year, whilst the newly reformed 31 Squadron will focus on preparing to operate the aircraft in service. This is an important milestone for the Programme, Air Force and wider defence and I am delighted to see Protector at RAF Waddington.” Air Commodore Alex Hicks Senior Responsible Officer, Protector Programme said.

Protector RG Mk 1 (MQ-9B) is the successor to Reaper (MQ-9A) and is the next generation of remotely piloted medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) aircraft developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI). Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer the RAF a vastly improved armed ISTAR capability.

Considered a step change in capability for the RAF, the cutting-edge platform will be capable of being flown anywhere in the world while being operated by personnel located at RAF Waddington. Protector will be able to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace thanks to its ground-breaking ‘detect and avoid’ technology. The platform will also be able to take off and land automatically, increasing its flexibility and meaning there will be a significantly reduced deployed footprint when compared to other remotely piloted platforms such as Reaper. The aircraft will use enhanced data links and carry next-generation, low-collateral, precision strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK). In addition to MBDA and Raytheon, 12 other UK companies contribute towards the MQ-9B programme.

This image shows the SkyGuardian aircraft flying on a sortie over RAF Waddington.
A pre-production example of the UK’s new Protector aircraft has taken to the UK skies as part of preparations for the arrival of Protector to RAF Waddington.
Operating from RAF Waddington, the SkyGuardian aircraft has undertaken a number of sorties , showcasing its impressive capabilities while also providing vital information as personnel at RAF Waddington prepare for the arrival of Protector in 2024.
The UK has ordered 16 Protector aircraft from General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI). All will be based at RAF Waddington, the RAF’s ISTAR hub.

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