Plane & Pilot visited NASA Dryden Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave, Calif., where NASA and Northrop Grumman Corporation unveiled the first Global Hawk unmanned aircraft systems to be used for environmental science research. Heralding a new application for the world’s first fully autonomous aircraft, NASA plans to use the Global Hawk for Earth science missions that require high-altitude, long-distance airborne capability.
Northrop Grumman will share in the use of the aircraft to conduct its own flight demonstrations for expanded markets, missions and airborne capabilities, including integration of autonomous aircraft systems into the national airspace system. Until this integration is complete, NASA missions will have the aircraft climb to 45,000 feet within the Edwards AFB restricted airspace before continuing on with the flight plan. The Global Hawk has an initial climb rate of up to 4,000 fpm at 140 knots, but will take approximately one hour to achieve FL450.
NASA’s initial use of the aircraft to support Earth science will be the Global Hawk Pacific 2009 program. This campaign will consist of six long-duration missions over the Pacific and Arctic regions in the late spring and early summer of 2009. Twelve scientific instruments integrated into one of the NASA Global Hawk aircraft will collect atmospheric data while flying high through Earth’s atmosphere in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, also is partnering with NASA to develop this new airborne research tool for the pursuit of Earth science. NOAA is participating in the project management and piloting of the NASA Global Hawks and the development of scientific instruments and future Earth science research campaigns.
“Today marks the debut of NASA’s newest airborne science capability,” said Kevin L. Petersen, director of Dryden. “These Global Hawks represent the first nonmilitary use of this remarkable robotic aircraft system. NASA’s partnership with Northrop Grumman has made this possible.”
The U.S. Air Force transferred the Global Hawks #1 and #6 to NASA in December 2007. They’re among the first built in the original Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program, which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsored. The 44-foot-long Global Hawk has a wingspan of 116 feet and is powered by a single Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine. The max gross takeoff weight is 25,600 pounds, including a 2,000 pound payload capacity. It can fly at altitudes up to 65,000 feet for more than 31 hours at a time. To date, Global Hawks have flown more than 28,000 hours.
The first Earth science mission from Dryden Flight Research Center and NOAA is scheduled for the end of March.