Monday, February 18, 2002

Wright-Pat officials hone plane

Air Force works to improve unmanned spy plane

The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — Officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are working on plans to boost the capabilities of an unmanned spy plane that has become one of the military's most popular aircraft.

        The Air Force's RQ-4A Global Hawk, which still is being developed, has been ordered into production. Wright-Patterson officials managing the Global Hawk program are trying to increase the high-flying robot plane's payloads and add more sensors.

Global Hawk fact sheet:
        The Navy plans to buy two of the planes for testing, and the Pentagon is talking to European defense leaders about exporting them as “Euro Hawks,” the Dayton Daily News reported Sunday. The newspaper said Australia also is interested in the Global Hawk.

        Many designs for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UVAs, have been tried and abandoned over the years, but the Bush administration's 2003 defense budget requests $629 million to accelerate development and production of the Global Hawk.

        The Pentagon's enthusiasm for the Global Hawk has grown since it began flying them over Afghanistan in November. The plane's ability to cruise more than 12 miles high and span oceans without refueling was a help in remote Afghanistan. The self-guided plane also is designed to fly 1,380 miles and stay airborne for up to 36 hours.

        The Global Hawk also has a radar system that can make picture-like images and detect moving targets, a see-in-the-dark infrared camera and an optical camera for daytime viewing. The plane can then relay the pictures to distant ground stations via satellite.

        The Air Force is now combining its development efforts with production, said Col. Wayne Johnson, the Global Hawk program manager.

        In January, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. a $101.3 million contract to build the first two production planes and a mission control unit and a $41.5 million contract for more development work.

        Johnson said the Air Force plans to buy more than 50 Global Hawks, but the final number hasn't been determined.


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