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Protector Bulletin Autumn

Welcome to the Protector Bulletin. This issue has various updates including items on the acceptance of the first UK aircraft, engineer training and the Auto Take-Off and Land Capability.

Aircraft Acceptance

Following recent successful completion of the Acceptance Test Procedure ATP, the first Protector aircraft was accepted off contract on 7 September 2022 by the Ministry of Defence from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems-Inc (GA-ASI). The Acceptance Test Procedure was performed jointly by the MOD and GA-ASI following the completion of the aircraft production and acceptance procedures - it includes all inspections and tests performed on the hardware in operation for the aircraft and in conformance with the functional specification and technical requirements.

Image shows Protector aircraft in flight.

Ownership of the aircraft has now transferred to the MOD and the aircraft will now operate with a UK Military tail number, PR005, under a UK Military Permit to Fly. The aircraft will remain in the USA to participate in the initial training programme for the RAF.

Protector Engineers begin training in California

A new and innovative training course has just commenced in the USA which will see the qualification of the first cohort of engineers as dedicated Cross-Skilled Technicians on the new Protector. Previously the roles of Weapon Technician, Avionics Technician and Mechanical Technician were entirely separate, but a new approach is being taken for aviators supporting Protector.

This is a phenomenal opportunity for the whole team. We are challenging the `we have always done it this way position, to innovate the way that we do business. Professions has allowed us to create a mobile and dynamic workforce to enhance the highly deployable capability that Protector will provide for UK Defence.

Flight Lieutenant Alex
31 Squadron Executive Officer

The training, delivered by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in California, will see the traditional roles replaced by the Protector Technician role. This will allow for a reduced footprint whilst deployed and afford greater flexibility when deploying in support of operations overseas. The technicians, who currently sit between the ranks of Corporal and Chief Technician, will undertake all tasks up to the point that the aircraft chocks are removed at which point aircrew, situated at RAF Waddington, will take over control of the aircraft.

Automatic Take-off and Landing Capability

Protector will have many capability improvements compared to Reaper, one of which is a fully automatic take-off and landing capability (ATLC). It will allow Protector to operate from any suitable airfield with minimal ground support, seamlessly integrated with other airfield traffic. Reaper operations are dependent upon a much larger logistical footprint, with personnel and technical equipment deployed on an enduring basis and required to manually conduct each take-off and landing from the Launch and Recovery Element.

Image shows Protector aircraft on the airfield, with RAF aviator arm patch in shot.

To enable ATLC to work, the aircrew upload GPS coordinates of the runway, around which the system builds a navigation route for either take-off or landing; it can be adjusted to suit the needs of Air Traffic Control procedures and local airspace limitations. When the pilot engages ATLC, the aircraft will automatically conduct either a take-off or landing, following the nav route until the ATLC system is disengaged by the pilot. If the aircraft is unable to conduct the manoeuvre it will abort the event and either stop safely on the runway for a take-off, or re-join the navigation ‘circuit’ to re-attempt landing. At anytime during any ATLC sequence, the pilot can disengage ATLC and take full control of the aircraft, just like autopilot systems in crewed aircraft. Testing of the ATLC system is currently being conducted in the USA during the winter months, demonstrating that ATLC is safe reliable and flexible.

Waddington Airspace

The airspace around RAF Waddington is currently undergoing Stage 3 of an Airspace Change Proposal (ACP). The scope of this consultation is limited to the implementation of segregated airspace to enable Protector to operate safely and efficiently from RAF Waddington to its operating and training areas around the UK. It will also enable the RAF Aerobatic Team to conduct flying display activity at RAF Waddington.

Additionally, this ACP will support the safe integration of Protector into the national airspace structure. The ATLC patterns that are being established will work in conjunction with the airspace changes.

See the airspace changes here.

Protector Crew Training in Grand Forks

Protector crews will begin training in early 2023 at the General Atomics Flight Test & Training Center (FTTC) which is located close to the Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota, USA. Personnel and their families have begun to arrive in the area following the end of operations by 39 Sqn at Creech AFB. The first 4 Protector Operational Conversion Courses will be conducted at the FTTC before training is established at RAF Waddington in 2024. The centre has extensive briefing and classroom facilities in addition to 2 Certified Ground Control Stations and 2 Synthetic Training Systems.

Image shows RAF squadron photo with the Protector aircraft and flags of the UK and USA.

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