GLOBAL HAWK UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE (UAV)
PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA -- August 1, 2003 -- With a light show worthy of a rock concert, the latest star in the Air Force's arsenal was unveiled Friday with the rollout of the first production-model Global Hawk. The Northrop Grumman hangar at Air Force Plant 42 was filled with dignitaries and employees to cheer the bulbous, grey-and-white unmanned vehicle. Like the Wright Flyer did 100 years ago, "Global Hawk will lead the way in another revolution in aviation - unmanned systems," said Scott Seymour, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems. The futuristic-looking aircraft is a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aerial reconnaissance system designed to provide battlefield commanders with high-resolution, near-real-time imagery of large geographic areas. Operating autonomously, it is capable of flying to 65,000 feet with a range of 14,000 miles and a flight endurance of 40 hours. While the craft unveiled Friday is the first production model, the Global Hawk has already proven its worth in operations over Afghanistan and Iraq using the developmental versions. "It's the first production unit, and yet it's been in combat twice already," Seymour said. Of the aircraft's 3,000 flight hours, half were logged during combat. "Our experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom really validates the Air Force's confidence in the Global Hawk system," said Col. G. Scott Coale, Global Hawk program director. One demonstrator was used to fly 3% of the intelligence imagining missions over Iraq, accounting for 55% of the time-sensitive targets identified, he said. "This experience in Iraq really demonstrates the potential of Global Hawk to transform the way we do fighting," he said. "It really is an impressive accomplishment." It is the first time a developmental aircraft has been used operationally, before the production version. This allowed for "lessons learned" in real-world use to be incorporated in the production version, before it came off the assembly line. "This is a tremendous opportunity," said Carl Johnson, Northrop Grumman vice president and Global Hawk program manager. "They (the Air Force) get to say what they want ahead of time." Some of those modifications will be incorporated in the production aircraft during its stay in the test fleet at Edwards Air Force Base. "What is really exciting in this program is we haven't even fielded this hardware, but we already have experience that we are incorporating," Coale said. "We'll be having a better system when we field it." The aircraft will depart for Edwards later this month. After four to six months of testing, it will be delivered to the new operational squadron at Beale AFB, near Sacramento. A second Global Hawk is expected to be delivered to the Air Force by the end of the year, with two more in late 2004 or early 2005. Eventually, 50 of the planes will be produced for the Air Force. While virtually identical to the concept demonstrators, the newest version is more robust than its predecessors with greater capabilities developed based on operational use. It also has the capability to support future changes to the sensors on board. The production craft are also produced under more stringent oversight and with more standardized procedures than their developmental brethren, Johnson said. Global Hawk is built by Northrop Grumman, with final assembly at its facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, and has conducted flight test activities at Edwards Air Force Base since 1997. Seven developmental Hawks were built and delivered to the test fleet at Edwards prior to the advent of the production model. Three of these concept demonstrators have been lost, one during a test flight out of Edwards and two over Afghanistan. The remaining four concept demonstrators will continue to be used for further developments to the system, as well as demonstrations for other uses. The next milestone of Global Hawk production will be the introduction of the B-model. This next version will be able to carry 3,000 pounds of payload, as opposed to the 2,000-pound capability of the A-model, and have a larger airframe, with the wingspan increased from 116 to 131 feet. The first B-model - the 10th production craft overall - is expected to take its first flight sometime in late 2005. Northrop Grumman also has a contract to produce two Hawks for the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Coast Guard is also looking at Global Hawk for its maritime surveillance duties. Allies, such as Australia and Germany, have also expressed interest in the planes for their uses. "This could potentially be a very major production program for the Antelope Valley," Johnson said. Although the current Air Force contract calls for production of about seven aircraft a year, the manufacturing center is capable of producing up to 24 annually, he said.