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USAF Take Delivery Of First Production Global Hawks

by Capt. Bob Everdeen
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base OH (SPX) Jan 21, 2006
The first of two production Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles began flying missions in support of the global war on terrorism within hours of arriving in theater earlier this month.

The aircraft -- managed by the Aeronautical Systems Center's Global Hawk Systems Group here -- are part of the 12th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at a forward-base overseas. The two UAVs are named AF-4 and AF-5.

Just 36 hours after arriving on station, AF-5 flew its first combat sortie, which lasted nearly 24 hours. During this initial aerial reconnaissance flight, the Global Hawk's new production integrated sensor suite performed flawlessly, booting up in half the time of the advanced concept technology demonstration sensor, officials said.

AF-4's arrival at its new "home" was delayed a day due to bad weather along its flight route. But it landed safely on Jan. 12.

"We are extremely excited to have these two aircraft in the hands of our warfighters," said Randy Brown, Global Hawk Systems Group director. "This is a major milestone in the program and one that is historical for the future of Air Force reconnaissance. There have been a number of improvements to the program, and I'm very proud of the work that everyone here has done to make this a reality."

While still in the advanced concept technology demonstration stage, Global Hawk delivered more than 15,000 images to Air Force and joint warfighting commanders and flew more than 5,000 combat hours in the global war on terrorism. Even with these successes, there have been recent challenges with the aircraft.

In October, AF-4 diverted to an alternate location because it lost satellite communication during a sortie. Once the problem was identified, fixed and tested, the aircraft was sent back up and has since performed flawlessly, officials said.

"Even with the Satcom problem, the Global Hawk's software flew exactly like it was supposed to on the diversion," Mr. Brown said. "It recognized the problem, changed course and landed fine at its alternate location. There are many redundancies on these aircraft that enable them to be programmed for missions, and then sent on their way."

Global Hawks were deployed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, prototype aircraft have flown nearly continuous combat missions in support of global war on terrorism, logging more than 233 missions and a combined 8,000 flight hours.

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