Unmanned aircraft systems set flight record

By Emily Aasand | January 08, 2015

The U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk and other Northrop Grumman Corp.’s High Altitude Long Endurance unmanned aircraft system (UAS) series set a new record for flying more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission hours in one week.

The UAS series flew 781 hours from September 10 through September 16. The Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk flew 87 percent of the missions with the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstration aircraft and NASA’s Global Hawk hurricane research asset flew the rest.

“There are at least two Global Hawks in the air at all times providing indispensable ISR information to those that need it,” said Mick Jaggers, Global Hawk UAS program director, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “The 2014 fiscal year was the most active yet for the Global Hawk, with a 40 percent year over year increase in flight hours.”

During the week of the record, Northrop delivered two new RQ-4 Global Hawks to the Air Force; one to the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota and the other to the Beale Air Force Base in California.

The increase in flight hours and size of the fleet will give combat commanders more ISR capabilities at a time when demand often outstrips aircraft availability, Northrop Grumman said.

The latest RQ-4 Global Hawk models complete a four aircraft buy by the Air Force and brings the Air Force’s total Global Hawk fleet to 33. In August, the Air Force signed an agreement requesting three more Global Hawks, which are scheduled for delivery in 2016 and 2017, the company added.

Overall, Northrop’s HALE UAS series has exceeded more than 130,000 total flight hours, with roughly 75 percent of flight hours used to support combat and operational missions.