The world’s first transatlantic flight by a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) has set off from North Dakota.
The medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft, MQ-9B SkyGuardian, produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), took off from Grand Forks, North Dakota, on the first-ever trans-Atlantic flight of a MALE RPA, and is due to touch down at Royal Air Force Fairford in Gloucestershire at approximately 6:45 pm, today July 11.
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.
“This is a very exciting moment in GA-ASI’s history,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “To demonstrate the long endurance of unmanned aircraft systems, we took on the challenge of flying a MALE RPA across the Atlantic. This effort has taken a lot of coordination and we appreciate the support of the CAA, RIAT organization and the RAF in this endeavour.”
Kai Tang, chief commercial officer of Inmarsat Government, added: “Reliable SATCOM is a critical enabler for any mission, and this trans-Atlantic flight test has vividly highlighted its importance. This is a truly historical event made possible by ingenuity and impressive integration and engineering from the GA team, and Inmarsat is very proud to be a part of it.”
The service also provides full flexibility in route selection for the long-endurance flight, while supporting mission-critical and time-sensitive data transmission, including imagery and video.