The first “civilian-registered” remotely piloted drone to ever make a flight across the Atlantic landed at 6:43pm local time (1:45pm ET) in RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire on Wednesday after taking off from Grand Forks, North Dakota on Tuesday, the BBC reported, after traveling nearly 3,800 miles.
The BBC writes that, having completed its historic voyage, the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems drone in question will be on display at a show at the airbase which commences at the end of the week:
The 3,760-mile journey was piloted by an operator located in America.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian has arrived ahead of the Royal International Air Tattoo which begins on Friday.
The aircraft will be on static display during the show.
Astute observers will note that the MQ-9 SkyGuardian line is famous mostly for its military role, in which it has earned the nickname of “Reaper” and conjured ominous visions of a future in which autonomous weapons, instead of human operators, pull their own triggers. Not that the human operators need help executing the US’ overseas bombing campaigns: Along with its predecessor the MQ-1 Predator and a number of other craft, the US has used the Reaper to perform what is estimated to be thousands of killings abroad. So at least this demonstration of the line’s civilian purposes is somewhat less dreadful.
The BBC added that General Atomics CEO Linden Blue told reporters in a statement, “This historic event was a demonstration of the endurance and civil airspace capability of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, and it is fitting to do this as part of the centennial celebration of the RAF.”
According to New Atlas, the craft is the latest iteration of the Reaper line and was modified to meet non-military airspace standards, as well as comply with regulations from NATO, the British Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA), and the US Federal Aviation Administration. Here’s some specs:
The MQ-9B has a wingspan of 79 ft (24 m) and is powered by a Honeywell TPE331-10 Turboprop engine providing 45 kVA. It can carry a payload of 4,750 lb (2,155 kg), has a maximum air speed of 210 knots (242 mph, 389 km/h), and an endurance of over 40 hours at altitudes of up to 40,000 ft (12,200 m).
Anyhow, hats off to the Reaper drone that probably could kill if it was equipped to do so, but was not in this specific instance.