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Director's Update: Fall 2009

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf, Director
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Time again to pick up the thread on the museum's comprehensive collection of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and other autonomously directed air vehicles. In past issues, we've provided you with a brief description of these air vehicles on display, undergoing restoration and the few remaining in storage. Once we took a look at the listing, we discovered that we just were not missing many. Since UAVs are the wave of the future we set out to fill any of the voids relevant to the Air Force that we could.

My sense is that we've done very well. Let's pick up the story with two variants developed for a program known as "Compass Cope" by the Boeing Company and Teledyne Ryan Company. These competing UAVs were to fill the requirement for High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) reconnaissance vehicles and were essentially high altitude sailplanes The Boeing version is on display in the museum's R&D Gallery and utilized the General Electric J-97 engine with 5,270 pounds of thrust. The Ryan variant, an outgrowth of the "Compass Arrow" program, that is awaiting delivery to the museum, utilized the Garrett ATF-3 turbofan engine with 4,050 pounds of thrust. These were large UAVs as the wing span ran between 80-90 feet. Endurance was great (in the 24-28 hour range) and became the model for future UAV development. While Boeing was announced as the winner of the competition, neither proceeded to production as the contract was terminated.

The scene was now set for HALE operations and the Boeing Condor now enters the picture in the 1980s. This UAV is in restoration to build a section of wing destroyed by an engine fire. If we considered the Compass Cope vehicles large, then the "Condor" must be thought of as gigantic. The Condor has a wingspan of over 200 feet, which is larger than that of a Boeing 747 or a B-52 and is very similar to a sailplane's wing with a glide ratio of 40:1 meaning that for every one foot of lost altitude, it will glide 40 feet. One thing you will notice when looking at pictures of the Condor in flight is that the wing tips flexed over 40 feet. Altitude was always a consideration but now not the most challenging goal. The long endurance part of the equation was the primary focus. Recall the 24-28 hour duration of the Compass Cope family, the Condor demonstrated an unrefueled flight of 80 hours during the test program. The design goal was 150 hours. Since the Condor was manufactured using composites, it had the great combination of long loiter time and low radar and heat signature which made it almost invisible to radars. Detect a thread of continuity here?

As the HALE concept continues to be developed, we now come to the "Big Daddy" operationally known as "Global Hawk." A product of Northrop Grumman's Ryan Aeronautical facility, you can see the museum's Global Hawk suspended in the Modern Flight Gallery. It is impressive as its 116-foot wing span makes it the largest of the UAVs in operational use. This Global Hawk has a solid provenance as an operational air vehicle and was the "high flyer" over Afghanistan and Iraq. The Global Hawk can fly in an autonomous mode and possesses a great loiter capability. During the Global Hawk's development, the museum's bird flew from the United States to Australia and landed "untouched by human hands." It later returned in the same mode. Using the same autonomous mode the Global Hawk flew to the Paris Air Show, landed and then parked itself. The Global Hawk is a true 21st Century reconnaissance vehicle. This vehicle has done just about everything there is to do. When you look at it in the museum, notice the mission markings. The sides of the Global Hawk are virtually covered with markings. Truly a case of "been there, done that."

Along with the Global Hawk, today's newspapers are filled with the mention of the MQ-1 "Predator" UAV. Certainly not as big as the Global Hawk with a wingspan of 48 feet, the Predator possesses a unique capability beyond the surveillance and reconnaissance mission it performs 24/7 in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you study the picture carefully you will notice that it possesses teeth. By teeth, I mean that it is armed carrying two "Hellfire" missiles. A long endurance medium altitude unmanned system, it is fully capable of performing the roles of both reconnaissance and interdiction. Using satellite communications, information from the surveillance mission is fed to the troops below the flight path as well as worldwide to the command and control elements to whom this information is important. In the near future the Predator will move to the Warrior Airman exhibit and will be replaced with the museum's newest acquisition. This new presence is the MQ-9 "Reaper" with its 66 foot wing span and four hard points with which to carry 3,000 pounds of ordnance. This is not a reconnaissance vehicle to be trifled with. The Reaper will be placed on display in the location where the Predator now resides. We expect that the Reaper will be placed on display in January 2010.

In the next issue, we'll be addressing the world of micro UAVs. You've just got to see them and understand the capability they represent.

As a final comment, we will be hosting a reunion group representing the 19th Bombardment Group. These veterans were stationed in the Philippines during December 1941 and early 1942. This is the organization that flew The Swoose. We've found the bombardier of The Swoose from that period, and he is planning on attending. More on this get together in the next issue.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Friends Journal. To receive the Journal and other benefits, become a member of the Air Force Museum Foundation.