Let’s Talk About The Recent First Flight In UK Airspace Of A RAF RG Mk1 Protector


Protector first flight in UK
The first RG1 Protector (PR009) took off from RAF Waddington (Photo: Royal Air Force)

RG Mk1 Protector flew for the first time in British skies over Lincolnshire recently.

On Nov.17, 2023 the Royal Air Force announced that its RG Mk1 Protector Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) successfully finished its first flight over UK airspace. This milestone followed the aircraft’s arrival to RAF Waddington a few weeks prior. Having finished the ground testing phase, 31 Squadron has now moved on to aerial testing of the type before its official entry to service, scheduled to happen early next year. According to the RAF Programme Director for Protector, Group Captain Rutledge, ‘Achieving the first flight of Protector in UK Airspace is a fitting milestone for this phase of testing, representing an outstanding team effort. We will now build on this success and look forward to the next Test & Evaluation phase as part of our preparations for the In Service Date later next year.”

The first of 16 remotely piloted Protector aircraft arrived at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire in September and is undergoing a series of rigorous trials and tests before entering the RAF fleet. Capable of operating across the world with a minimal deployed footprint and remotely piloted from RAF Waddington, it can operate at heights up to 40,000 feet with an endurance of over 30 hours.

The first Protector (PR009) successfully taxied and flew a series of circuits around RAF Waddington airfield, at all times under the control of a pilot through its ground-based advanced cockpit.

Protector pictured landing at RAF Waddington (Image credit: Royal Air Force)

Sightings of the Protector will become more regular, with 15 additional airframes awaiting delivery.

The Protector platform is expected to take a wide range of missions including land and maritime surveillance to track threats, counter terrorism, and support to UK civil authorities, such as assisting HM Coastguard with search and rescue missions. In addition to accepting the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) roles currently undertaken by the MQ-9A Reaper fleet, which has provided exceptional service on operations around the clock for more than 15 years, Protector will be certified to stringent NATO safety and certification standards allowing it to operate in the UK and European civilian airspace, a first for an RAF RPAS platform.

PR009 is the first of an initial batch of 16 RG1s to enter service. (Image credit: Royal Air Force)

Currently only one airframe has reached Britain, while more await delivery from the US. Some airframes are still under use by RAF pilots stationed in Southern California to train the first batch of Protector pilots.

All aircraft of the first order are expected to be delivered and in-service by Jul 2025. With the UK government ordering an additional 13 platforms in 2021, the RAF is set to operate a total of 29 RG.1s. The 31 Squadron will be the first RAF squadron to operate the type, having been reformed earlier this year.

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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