Proving Platform Ability to Operate in Non-Segregated Airspace
For the first time, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved a point-to-point domestic flight for an unmanned aircraft using the nation’s airways structure when a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9B SeaGuardian flew from Lincolnshire to Moray on 12 September.
Controlled by NATS, the UK’s civilian Air Navigation Services Provider (ANSP), the flight used a GA-ASI-owned aircraft to fly from RAF Waddington to RAF Lossiemouth. According to NATS, the flight was controlled through more complex airspace than any previous UAS flights in the UK. “This flight required that we transfer control between multiple civil airspace sectors,” explained Mark Watson, Head of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) Service Integration for NATS. “The procedures for this flight were close to what we do already with conventional crewed aircraft. This helped us validate that our existing methods of control are equally applicable to controlling remotely crewed aircraft – when the aircraft performs like SeaGuardian.”
“The Airspace Coordination Notice issued by the CAA for this series of demonstration flights in UK airspace is the largest and most meticulous we have ever produced, so that the airspace integration of SeaGuardian is at the highest level of safety,” added Tom Gratton, CAA Airspace Regulator.
“This successful flight paves the way not only for future operations of PROTECTOR in UK airspace, but also for other civil and commercial UAS flights,” stated GA-ASI VP of International Strategic Development, Robert Schoeffling. PROTECTOR RG Mk1 is the RAF’s designation for the UAS it has ordered from GA-ASI, based on the MQ-9B, 16 of which are now on order. The GA-ASI-owned, civil-registered aircraft that made this ground-breaking flight is operating from RAF airfields as part of an ongoing set of demonstrations being conducted by GA-ASI for the RAF.
Among the capabilities on display is GA-ASI’s revolutionary Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, a safety and situational awareness enhancement designed to support PROTECTOR’s flight in non-segregated UK airspace, as well as the platform’s capability to integrate into broader European airspace. DAA will enable PROTECTOR to operate amid normal aviation traffic in the UK’s national airspace, unlike any other aircraft in its class. The demonstration flights are also assisting RAF Waddington, the future home of the RAF PROTECTOR Force, to prepare and integrate the new aircraft into its daily operations.
The demos continue until the end of September, with the completion of Exercise Joint Warrior. The goal of the flight series has been to showcase the many operational capabilities of the MQ-9B, including the platform’s advanced maritime ISR role, industry-leading endurance, and interoperability with NATO partners.