MQ-9B remotely piloted aircraft completes FAA-approved flight through national airspace

POWAY, Calif. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) reports that it flew a MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) from Laguna Airfield at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, through national airspace to its Gray Butte Flight Operations facility near Palmdale, California. The MQ-9B is a STANAG 4671 (NATO airworthiness standard for unmanned aircraft systems[UASs])-compliant version of the Predator B UAS line.

The 275 mile trip -- which required FAA approval to fly through various classes of nonrestricted airspace -- lasted approximately an hour and 45 minutes.

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is set to acquire a weaponized variant of the system under GA-ASI's MQ-9B PROTECTOR program; additionally, a maritime patrol variant called SeaGuardian is being designed to support open-ocean and littoral surface surveillance. All variants are designed to fly in excess of 35 hours, at air speeds up to 210 knots (242 mph), at altitudes of more than 40,000 feet. Deliveries of the RPAs to the RAF are expected to begin early next decade.