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HomeNewsGlobal NewsRemotely piloted RAF aircraft begin trials in UK

Remotely piloted RAF aircraft begin trials in UK

  • The first of 16 Protector aircraft arrive at RAF Waddington for test flights
  • Boosts RAF technology with unparalleled surveillance and strike capability 
  • Aircraft will undergo test flights until entering service in late 2024

LONDON, England – The first of 16 remotely piloted Protector aircraft has arrived at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire to commence a series of rigorous trials and tests before entering the RAF fleet.

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.

It 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.

With a wingspan of 79 feet, the uncrewed aircraft can operate at heights up to 40,000 feet and has an endurance of more than 30 hours, enabling unparalleled surveillance and strike capability. 

The aircraft has been assembled by a newly reformed 31 Squadron who are preparing it for ground and air testing ahead of its anticipated in-service date later next year. Thirty-one Sqn, which previously operated the Tornado GR4, will operate and maintain the aircraft at RAF Waddington. The squadron has a long history stretching back to 1915 and have operated multiple aircraft types in the last century. They are exclusively a Protector Sqn now and have been reformed to operate Protector as it enters Service.  

Defence procurement minister, James Cartlidge MP, said:

“The UK’s world-class Protector aircraft will emphasise our ultra-modern surveillance, intelligence, and precision strike capabilities, ensuring we are ready to monitor and protect against potential adversaries around the globe. With the first aircraft at RAF Waddington ready to begin trials, we will once again demonstrate how we are spearheading military defence technology.” 

The first phase of tests, beginning this week, will involve ground testing of the satellite links and taxi procedures, as well as take-off and landing trials. This will also incorporate a circuit above RAF Waddington.

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.



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