- PALMDALE -- 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
- The Northrop Grumman hangar at Air Force Plant 42 was
filled with dignitaries and employees to cheer the bulbous, grey-and-white
- 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
- 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
- "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
- "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
- "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
- 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.