San Diego: Northrop Grumman Corporation's RQ-4 Global Hawk set an endurance record for a full-scale, operational unmanned aircraft on 22 March 2008, when it completed a flight of 33.1 hours at altitudes up to 60,000 feet over Edwards Air Force Base, California.
"It was a picture perfect flight, landing flawlessly on centerline with enough fuel remaining to continue for two more hours," said Jerry Madigan, Northrop Grumman vice president of high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) systems. "The pilots and ground crew, as well as Edwards Air Force Base senior leadership were very impressed with the Global Hawk's performance, meeting or exceeding every flight objective."
"The Global Hawk has been performing beyond our expectations and this flight is a testament to the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman's commitment to providing world-class, innovative systems for our military forces," said Bryan Lima, Northrop Grumman Global Hawk chief engineer. "This was the longest mission ever flown by a HALE or MALE (medium-altitude long-endurance) aircraft."
Designated AF-8, the first Global Hawk Block 20, has surpassed both the official and unofficial world unrefueled endurance records for operational unmanned airplanes previously held by the Block 10 variant.
"This was a major milestone for the entire Global Hawk team and is a critical data point in supporting upcoming production decisions," said Col. Chris Coombs, acting Global Hawk programme director for the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "Even after 10 years of flight, the Global Hawk continues to amaze us. Truly a feat of outstanding engineering, no other unmanned aircraft has yet to come close to matching its combat-proven capabilities and versatility."
To date, three Global Hawks are currently deployed in support of the global war on terrorism (GWOT), logging more than 15,700 combat hours with more than 21,000 total programme flight hours and 95 per cent mission effectiveness.
"Under the Air Force contract, Global Hawks cost approximately $28 million each, averaged across the entire fleet of 54 aircraft," added Col Coombs.
As the world's first fully autonomous HALE unmanned aerial system providing persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to soldiers, the Global Hawk is designed to fly up to 65,000 feet for more than 35 hours and see through any inclement weather at any time.
Global Hawks are flown in four locations across the globe: Beale Air Force Base, home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and the RQ-4's main operating base, near Sacramento, Calif.; Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California; Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland; and in support of the GWOT.