AN AIRCRAFT taking part in this year's RIAT will complete a world-first flight just before the event begins.

A civilian-owned remotely-piloted aircraft will complete a transatlantic flight by landing at RAF Fairford two days before the Royal International Air Tattoo starts.

This has been heralded as the beginning of a new chapter in the history of aviation as it brings closer the possibility that airlines may one day routinely operate aircraft remotely.

The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9B SkyGuardian is due to take off from its base in North Dakota, USA, and embark on a 4,000-mile journey to the RAF base, piloted by an operator located at the aerospace company’s Flight Test and Training Centre in Grand Forks.

It has a wingspan of 79ft and can fly non-stop for in excess of 40 hours.

The aircraft is scheduled to touch down in the UK on WednesdayJuly 11.

The CAA has approved SkyGuardian’s flight in UK airspace and has issued guidance to pilots and aircraft operators to take note of a series of airspace restrictions that will be put in place over certain areas of the UK to ensure its safe journey.

The RAF is due to bring into service the UK variant of the aircraft, known as PROTECTOR RG Mk1, which will increase its long-range surveillance and precision strike capabilities.

It will feature in the Air Tattoo’s international celebration of the RAF centenary.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “The CAA supports the safe development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in the UK as they can bring many benefits. We have worked closely with General Atomics, NATS and the armed forces to safely accommodate the SkyGuardian into UK airspace.”

Air Tattoo Chief Executive Andy Armstrong said: “Remotely piloted aircraft, for both civilian and military use, are clearly an important part of aviation’s future landscape.

"We are already seeing a rapid growth in smaller airframes being used recreationally, for aerial photography and they have been used effectively in local search and rescue operations.

"We watch with great interest as further commercial applications are explored.

“It’s appropriate that on an occasion when we are celebrating the RAF’s centenary that we should present to the public not only aircraft from the RAF’s illustrious past and present but also offer a rare glimpse of its future.

“Whilst this particular airframe is being flown to very stringent aviation guidelines, I wish to remind everyone that strict rules and regulations exist regarding the use of smaller remotely piloted airframes, commonly known as drones.

"None are permitted to be airborne at or around the airshow and to do so would constitute a criminal act.”