Disbanded RAF 31 Squadron Reformed To Operate The RG.1 Protector By 2024


31 Sqn Protector
Rendering of an RAF RG.1 Protector. (Image created by The Aviationist using GA ASI image and 31 Sqn badge).

On October 11, 2023, the formerly disbanded RAF No. 31 Squadron conducted its reformation parade. It will become the first RAF RG.1 Protector unit.

Last Wednesday, a reformation parade was held at RAF Waddington to mark No. 31 Squadron’s revival. The squadron, known as the Goldstars, are expected to be the RAF’s first RG.1 Protector operating squadron. With the British government signing a deal with General Atomics to acquire 16 MQ-9B SkyGuardian platforms back in 2020, preparation for operation have been ramping up.

The RAF has given the MQ-9B a new designation of RG.1 Protector. The remotely piloted air system (RPAS) has been based in the U.S. since earlier this year after the first airframe (PR005) was handed to the RAF. Pilots have been undergoing training of the platform at El Mirage, California with the aircraft since.

RG.1 Protector
RG.1 Protector has been based in California for training the first batch of RAF operators (Photo RAF)

No 31 Sqn was reformed after 4 years since the retirement of the Tornado GR.4

While the first time the squadron was formed was back on October 11, 1915, under the Royal Flying Corps (before the formation of the RAF), it was dissolved a number of times throughout the years depending on the inventory of the British air force.

31 Squadron boasts a rich history from being the first military unit to fly in India with the B.E.2c, to operating a wide array of aircraft in more modern times from photo reconnaissance Canberra PR.7s, Phantom FGR.2s, to the nuclear capable Jaguar GR.1s. Most notably, the Goldstars operated Panavia Tornados between 1984 to 2019. 31 Squadron was one of the three squadrons to fly the last GR.4 Tornados up to their retirement in 2019. On March 14, 2019, the squadron disbanded soon after the Tornado’s service completed.

Now the Goldstars are expected to become the RAF’s first RPAS squadron based on home soil.

RAF is expecting a total of 29 RG.1 Protectors

With the UK government ordering an additional 13 platforms in 2021, the RAF is set to operate a total of 29 RG.1s. The first batch of Protectors are on its way from southern California to RAF Waddington. According to General Atomics, the first Protector was loaded on an An-124 bound for the UK on September 29, 2023. With the squadron set up, it is expected that the first Protectors will be seen flying over the skies of Lincolnshire very soon. The RAF has set an entry to service date by mid-2024. As a derivative of the MQ-9B, the RG.1 has nine hardpoints with a max external payload capacity of 4750 lbs (2155kg) for up to 40+ hours of flight time.  The RAF plans on integrating Paveway IV laser guided bombs and Brimstone 3 air-to-surface missiles.

Wonwoo is a student journalist and contributor to The Aviationist based in London, United Kingdom. Currently studying MEng in Aeronautical Engineering with a keen interest in OSINT, plane spotting and aircraft design. He is a former Sergeant of the Republic of Korea Army, having served as an artillery Fire Direction Centre Vehicle Radio Operator.


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