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Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk

Modern military commanders demand accurate and timely reconnaissance information. The RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS) provides air, ground and sea force commanders the near-real-time reconnaissance imagery they need to defeat an enemy halfway around the world.

First flown in 1998, Global Hawk's powerful digital camera and infrared sensor gather imagery in any weather condition, day or night. Through satellite links and ground relay stations, that information is transmitted immediately anywhere in the world. Its "Synthetic-Aperture Radar/Moving Target Indicator" lets ground crews track even small, moving objects on the ground. 

A typical, pre-programmed Global Hawk mission can include a 1,200-mile flight to an area of interest, 24 hours flying over the area, and the flight back to base. In just 24 hours, the RQ-4 can survey an area the size of Illinois (about 40,000 square miles) while cruising above the range of enemy air defenses. 

Two small ground teams manage Global Hawk's flights: a launch and recovery element (LRE) loads flight plans and makes necessary adjustments to the vehicle while a mission control element (MCE) manages the aircraft and its sensors during flight. 

Among the RQ-4's accomplishments are winning the 2000 Collier Trophy for aeronautical achievement and achieving the first autonomous UAS flight across the Pacific Ocean. This autonomous flight from California to Australia was made in just over 23 hours. Global Hawk set a world record for jet-powered UAS endurance in 2000 by flying for more than 31.5 hours at a mean altitude of 65,100 feet.

AV-3: The Grumpy Workhorse
The Global Hawk on display was the third prototype built. Designated Air Vehicle-3 (AV-3), it was officially designated an YRQ-4A (S/N 98-2003). However, AV-3 had anything but a normal career for a prototype. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Air Force deployed AV-3 to Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Because it still showed some of the "crankiness" of a prototype, AV-3 was nicknamed "Grumpy." Nevertheless, it also flew reconnaissance missions in support of Operations Southern Watch (OSW), Iraqi Freedom (OEF), Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the Combined Task Force-Horn of Africa. 

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, AV-3's sensors successfully tracked Iraqi Republican Guard forces during a fierce sandstorm in March 2003. While the dust blinded AV-3's optical and infrared sensors, its radar provided information accurate enough for fighters and bombers to attack the enemy successfully with Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapons. 

In February 2006, it made another spectacular flight by flying autonomously and non-stop from Australia to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Over its career, AV-3 completed 251 flights for 4,891.3 total hours flying time. This total included 195 combat sorties and 4,152.7 combat hours. A remarkable aircraft, AV-3 went on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in 2008. 

Rolls-Royce AE 3007H turbofan of 9,500 lbs. thrust
Maximum speed: 400 mph
Range: 1,300+ miles
Wingspan: 116.2 ft.
Length: 44.4 ft. 

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Find Out More
Col. Christopher Coombs: "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" (00:49:04)
Sean Moulton: "Challenges of the Next Generation UAS" (00:40:12)
Air Force Museum Foundation
See the Global Hawk in Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag at the Air Force Museum Theatre