MQ-9B SkyGuardian completes FAA-approved flight

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On August 16, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew an MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) from Laguna Airfield at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, through National Airspace to its Gray Butte Flight Operations facility near Palmdale, California.

The MQ-9B, a version of the Predator B product line, is compliant with STANAG 4671 (NATO airworthiness standard for Unmanned Aircraft Systems). The 275-mile trip lasted approximately 1 hour 45 minutes, and required FAA approval to fly through various classes of non-restricted airspace.

“This flight is another milestone in our progression toward delivering an RPA system that meets NATO airworthiness requirements for UAS,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI.

“MQ-9B SkyGuardian will be the first RPA system of its kind with a design-assurance level [that is]compliant with international type certification standards, and can therefore be integrated more easily than legacy RPAs into civil airspace operations around the world.”

A weaponized variant of the system is being acquired by the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) under the MQ-9B Protector program. A maritime patrol variant, SeaGuardian, is designed to support open-ocean and littoral surface surveillance. All variants are designed to fly in excess of 35 hours with airspeeds up to 210kts, and to reach altitudes of more than 40,000ft.

Development of MQ-9B began in 2012 as a company-funded effort. Program highlights include first flight in November 2016 and an endurance flight in May 2017 of 48.2 hours.

Qualification testing for type certification will continue over the next two years, with deliveries to the RAF expected to begin early next decade.

August 21, 2017

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