Published 17 November 2023

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The Royal Air Force’s newest aircraft, procured by a specialist team at DE&S, has taken its first flight in the UK.

The Protector RG Mk1, a remotely piloted aircraft system, took to the skies from RAF Waddington on 17th November, marking another important milestone in the delivery of the surveillance, intelligence, and precision strike aircraft to the front line.

The first of 16 remotely piloted Protector aircraft procured by DE&S, arrived at the Lincolnshire air base in September and is undergoing a series of rigorous trials and tests before entering the RAF fleet.

Chris Harris, RPAS Strategic Deputy Head at DE&S, said:

“This first flight in the UK marks a major milestone and the culmination of many years of very hard work by all involved, of which I am proud, and is a significant step towards achieving entry into RAF service next year.”

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.

Protector, the largest and most advanced remotely piloted aircraft flown in UK airspace, successfully taxied and flew a series of circuits around RAF Waddington, at all times under the control of a pilot through a ground control station link.

Simon Holford, Head of Remotely Piloted Air Systems for DE&S said:

 “At DE&S one of our key drivers is strengthening operations by providing cutting-edge equipment into the hands of our Armed Forces. Seeing the first UK Protector take flight on UK soil is a key moment along the journey to our goal.”

Equipped with a suite of surveillance equipment, the Protector aircraft will bring a critical global surveillance capability for the UK, all while being remotely piloted from RAF Waddington.

Group Captain Al Rutledge, RAF Programme Director for Protector said:

“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 In Service Date later next year.”

Protector will be able to undertake a wide range of tasking 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 Reaper, 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.

Arrival of 15 further aircraft from General Atomics in the US into the UK will be a phased delivery over the coming years. All aircraft are expected to be delivered and in-service by Jul 2025.