Safety concerns have been raised about proposed test flights of the controversial Protector prototype drone from RAF Lossiemouth.
The Ministry of Defence wants to introduce the aircraft to replace its current Reaper force, which is currently in operation in Syria and Iraq in the fight against Daesh.
Test flights of the massive drone, which has a 79ft wingspan, have been proposed from RAF Lossiemouth later this year.
However, the operation of the aircraft has proved controversial in the US.
What will Protector do at RAF Lossiemouth?
The Ministry of Defence has applied to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for permission to create a temporary danger area for Protector at RAF Lossiemouth.
Flights are proposed from the north-east base in September and October so the drone can take part in Exercise Joint Warrior.
The massive war games exercise is one of the largest of its kind in the world and involves countries from across the globe honing skills together.
Shakedowns of Protector, which is also known as SkyGuardian, have proved controversial in the US with test flights over San Diego in California being moved after talks between manufacturer General Atomics and the Federal Aviation Administration stalled.
The flight did eventually take place over the desert in April 2020 while the RAF’s own SkyGuardian completed its maiden flight in California in September last year.
The MoD has said Protector will only fly in unsegregated UK airspace once the technology is approved by the CAA.
It is hoped the aircraft will also be able to assist domestic agencies by contributing to search and rescue and disaster response missions.
A spokeswoman said: “As a registered civil aircraft, the SkyGuardian will be operating in full accordance with CAA regulations on the use of large remotely piloted aircraft.
“This deployment will assist in the development of the ‘detect and avoid’ technology which will permit Protector to fly safely in all UK airspace.”
Protector in operation
Safety concerns from campaigners
Despite the assurances from the MoD, safety concerns have been raised by drone campaigners.
A fleet of 16 Protectors are expected to enter operation from RAF Waddington in 2024.
However, Tim Street, coordinator at campaign group UK Drone Watch, said: “We are particularly concerned about the safety and accountability issues these flights raise.
“Planned flights of the SkyGuardian drone over San Diego in the US last year did not go ahead after safety objections from airspace regulators, instead taking place away from populated areas.
“RAF Lossiemouth is surrounded by houses, school buildings and local businesses, raising clear safety concerns.
“For example, US and British armed forces have regularly flown large drones for more than twenty years, yet the constant communication links which they rely on are often lost. In addition, problems are often caused by mechanical and electrical failure and bad weather.”