An RQ-4A Global Hawk made the first non-stop crossing of the Pacific,
flying 12,000 kilometers, from
California to Australia, in 23 hours. The Global Hawk has previously crossed
the Pacific in several hops, but it always had the endurance to do it non-stop.
last seven years, RQ-4s have flown over 20,000 hours, most of that combat
missions, and many of them from Persian Gulf bases. The latest models have been
able to fly 20 hour missions, land for refueling and maintenance, and be off in
four hours for another twenty hours in the sky. The RQ-4 has been very
reliable, with aircraft being ready for action 95 percent of the time. The U.S.
Air Force has been buying them at the rate of five a year, at a cost of $58 million each.
The new B
version is larger (wingspan is 15 feet larger, at 131 feet, and it's four feet
longer at 48 feet) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of
equipment. To support that, there's a new generator that produces 150 percent
more electrical power. The B version is a lot more reliable. Early A models
tended to fail and crash at the rate of once every thousand flight hours,
mostly because of design flaws.
three RQ-4Bs entered service in 2006. At 13 tons, the Global Hawk is the size
of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145), but costs nearly twice as
much. Global Hawk can be equipped with much more powerful, and expensive,
sensors, than other UAVs. These more the double the cost of the aircraft. These
spy satellite quality sensors (especially AESA radar) are usually worth the
expense, because they enable the UAV, flying at over 60,000 feet, to get a
sharp picture of all the territory it can see from that altitude.
Air Force is stationing a squadron of seven Global Hawks on the island of Guam.
These UAVs will begin arriving there next year, and undertake recon missions
throughout the western Pacific. The air force will soon have company. The U.S.
Navy is also buying Global Hawks, 44 of them, to perform maritime
reconnaissance. As a result of that decision, Australia is likely to buy some
as well, to monitor the vast stretches of ocean that surround the island