Send in the Global Hawk
In combat trials, the RQ-4A unmanned reconnaissance aircraft showed intelligence analysts what it means to have eyes like a Hawk.
- By John Croft
- Air & Space magazine, January 2005
(Page 4 of 4)
When AV-3 returned to Edwards on May 5, 2003, the mission success symbols painted on its nose didn’t quite trumpet what the team had accomplished in only eight weeks. AV-3 alone identified 55 percent of the time-sensitive targets and led to significant destruction of Iraqi air defense equipment. It located 13 complete SAM batteries, more than 50 SAM launchers, 300 SAM canisters, and more than 70 SAM transporters. And it provided the intelligence that led to the destruction of more than 300 tanks—38 percent of Iraq’s known armored force.
While Casey is once again manning a computer at Raytheon, AV-3 continues to scour the mountains of Afghanistan, having gotten another call to duty in March for Operation Mountain Storm. Walby says its toolbox continues to grow, the latest addition being Advanced Information Architecture. With AIA, soldiers with laptops or personal digital assistants—PDAs—can use the secure chat room or a radio link to request imagery from the Global Hawk pilot, who can respond by downlinking digital maps stored in the aircraft’s 1.4-terabyte server. “It works precisely like [the Internet’s] MapQuest,” says Walby.
Managers of the Global Hawk believe the program has found its footing. The three prototypes based Stateside are completing the aircraft’s long-postponed flight test program at Edwards, while five Air Force and two Navy production models are being built in Palmdale. An upgraded version with a 3,000-pound payload capacity and longer wings (130.9 feet) is also in the works, with deliveries starting next year. The Air Force alone has ordered 51 aircraft. The number could grow as other government agencies and countries, such as Australia and Germany, consider purchases. The company hopes to highlight the Global Hawk’s achievements by flying the aircraft to next year’s Paris Air Show, retracing the 1927 route Charles Lindbergh flew in his Ryan-built Spirit of St. Louis.
As for Casey, he’s moved on to other programs at Raytheon, satisfied in part because he’s served his country. He also has his own bits of war memorabilia, his favorite being a very small metal pin that was carried aloft in a Global Hawk during Operation Enduring Freedom. On it is an image of an American flag.