General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is one step closer to receiving full certification to deploy its MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) for NATO use after successfully completing a flight last week through various classes of non-restricted airspace.

The MQ-9B SkyGuardian completed the 275-mile trip from the Laguna Army Airfield in Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., to the Gray Butte Flight Operations facility in Palmdale, Calif., on Aug. 16 after GA-ASI received Federal Aviation Administration  approval to fly through national airspace.

MQ-9B SkyGuardian. Photo: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
MQ-9B SkyGuardian. Photo: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

“This flight is another milestone in our progression towards delivering an RPA system that meets NATO airworthiness requirements for UAS,” GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue said in a statement. “MQ-9B SkyGuardian will be the first RPA system of its kind with a design-assurance level compliant with international type-certification standards, and can therefore be integrated more easily than legacy RPAs into civil airspace operations around the world.”

GA-ASI first developed its unmanned MQ-9B aircraft in 2012 to fly for over 35 hours and reach altitudes greater than 20,000 feet. General Atomics is the parent of GA-ASI.

A weaponized version of the MQ-9B is under contract for delivery to the UK Royal Air Force, and a maritime patrol variant is being developed to support open-ocean surveillance.

Testing for GA-ASI’s MQ-9B will continue for the next two years with deliveries expected early next decade.