The first transatlantic flight by a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is due to touch down in the UK next month.
The civilian-registered UAV is taking part in the Royal International Air Tattoo in Gloucestershire and is ‘set to usher in a new era in unmanned aviation’.
The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9B SkyGuardian will take-off from its base in North Dakota and travel 4,000 miles to RAF Fairford.
The system will be piloted by an operator located at the aerospace company’s Flight Test and Training Centre in Grand Forks. It has a wingspan of 79ft and can fly non-stop for in excess of 40 hours.
According to the RAF, the first transatlantic RPA flight to land in the UK signals the beginning of a new chapter in the history of aviation and ‘brings closer the possibility that one day, airlines may routinely operate aircraft remotely’.
The CAA has approved SkyGuardian’s flight in UK airspace and has issued guidance to pilots and aircraft operators to take note of a series of airspace restrictions that will be put in place over certain areas of the UK to ensure its safe journey.
A spokesman for the CAA said: “The CAA supports the safe development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in the UK as they can bring many benefits. We have worked closely with General Atomics, NATS and the armed forces to safely accommodate the SkyGuardian into UK airspace.”
Air Tattoo chief executive, Andy Armstrong, added: “Remotely piloted aircraft, for both civilian and military use, are clearly an important part of aviation’s future landscape. We are already seeing a rapid growth in smaller airframes being used recreationally, for aerial photography and they have been used effectively in local search and rescue operations. We watch with great interest as further commercial applications are explored.”