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First RAF personnel graduate as Protector crews

Personnel from 54 Squadron, the Advanced Air Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Academy, and 56 Squadron have completed the inaugural Basic Phase Course for the RAF’s Protector RG Mk1 at the General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) Flight Test & Training Centre in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

[Image not from this course]

The RAF’s ISTAR Force Commander, Air Commodore Nick Paton visited the Training Centre and met with GA and RAF personnel.

Over the last year, the crews of Operational Conversion Course (OCU) 1, comprising of Pilots, Sensor Operators, and Mission Intelligence Coordinators (MIC), conducted extensive ground school training, evaluation of various simulated scenarios in the mission simulators, as well as the live flying of Protector, located in California, via satellite link, under the tuition of GA-ASI Instructors.  

Protector in the hangar when it first arrived.
[Protector's Arrival]

The objective of the course is to qualify the future instructors and test personnel on the Air System, whilst building specific training material and mission scenarios that will form the basis of RAF delivered training to all Protector crews. Future OCU training will evaluate the skills required to operate Protector and its equipment, including real-time exploitation of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) activity to find, fix and follow designated targets on the ground, with the crew working in unison to position the air vehicle, and its sensors, to maintain optimum target tracking.

“The completion of the Basic Phase Course is a huge milestone in the delivery of the Protector programme, with 56 Squadron personnel now able to return to the UK to complete vital testing and unlock UK training and global operations. The staff on 54 Squadron, having built their own knowledge of the complex systems, now focus on how they will impart that knowledge to others, working with the Central Flying School and GA-ASI to prepare for UK training delivery later this year. It has been a huge effort by the remote team to get to this stage and another proud moment in the history of the Squadron.”

Wing Commander Evans
OC 54 Squadron

Equipped with a suite of advanced equipment and precision strike weapons, Protector will provide critical armed surveillance capability and will be able to deploy against potential adversaries around the globe. The aircraft will also be able to fly in busy unsegregated airspace thanks to ‘detect and avoid’ technology with a potential endurance of over 30 hours.

54 Squadron, who are leading aircrew training for the RAF is based at RAF Waddington, hub of the RAF's ISTAR fleet. The Squadron became the ISTAR Operational Conversion Unit in 2005 and has since been responsible for training operators across the ISTAR Force and Qualified Weapons Instructors in ISTAR disciplines.

Protector will support UK industry and the manufacture of elements of the aircraft have been won by a UK firm. The Programme includes expansion of 54 Squadron capability and new infrastructure at RAF Waddington such as a training centre for UK and international students. The centre will put the RAF’s ISTAR Force at the very forefront of cutting-edge Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) for the UK and partner nations.

The UK is investing in 16 Protector RG Mk1 for the RAF; the first 8 will enable an Initial Operating Capability scheduled for 2025 at RAF Waddington. Capable of operating anywhere in the world, the Lincolnshire base will be the home of the Force, the site of launch and recovery to support domestic training, and command and control for overseas operations.