A controversial new SkyGuardian drone due to join the UK’s frontline of defence has arrived for test flights at RAF Lossiemouth.
A pre-production model of the aircraft has been flying at the north-east base ahead of taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior.
The large drones, which have a 79ft wingspan, are intended to a successor to the Reaper aircraft, which are currently used by the military.
What is SkyGuardian doing at RAF Lossiemouth?
SkyGuardian, which is also known as Protector, has arrived at RAF Lossiemouth to be tested in a marine environment.
The aircraft has already run sorties from its home base of RAF Waddington to showcase its capabilities.
Eventually 16 of the drones will be based at the Lincolnshire station from 2024.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, explained the technology was a “huge leap forward” in the UK’s capabilities of surveillance and precision strikes.
He said: “Protector will be able to conduct missions of up to 40 hours and fly in non-segregated civil airspace allowing it to respond rapidly and offer flexibility to deliver an array of military missions and support to civil authorities, including search and rescue.
While in the UK, pilots from GA-ASI (manufacturers General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems Inc) have been operating the aircraft.
“Later this month they will participate in Joint Warrior, a multi-national large-scale military exercise.”
Why is SkyGuardian controversial?
Concerns have been raised about SkyGuardian’s arrival in the UK by anti-drone campaigners.
Talks between General Atomics and the Federal Aviation Authority in the US about tests over San Diego stalled.
The flights eventually took place over desert.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has stressed it is satisfied SkyGuardian has meet all the requirements for short-term airspace approval at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Waddington.
And the Ministry of Defence has stressed it will comply with CAA rules at all times.
However, anti-drone campaigners are still planning a protest about SkyGuardian’s arrival outside RAF Lossiemouth on September 18.