The Global Hawk is the largest and most sophisticated operational unmanned jet aircraft in the US inventory. It offers a combination of capabilities that are truly revolutionary—unmanned and unmatched.
Q. How far can Global Hawk fly?
A. It has an inter-continental range (~11,500 miles). This means the aircraft can fly from New York and land anyplace in the world
Q. How high can Global Hawk fly?
A. About 12 miles high – an altitude almost twice that of airliners. From this height, you can see over 300 miles to the horizon.
Q. How long can Global Hawk fly?
A. More than 32 hours -- the longest of any high altitude operational aircraft in the world.
Q. How much can Global Hawk carry?
A. It can carry equipment weighing 3,000 lbs— that’s the weight of a Ford Focus.
Q. How Can the Global Hawk “See”?
A. The aircraft carries a unique combination of a long-range day and night vision camera, a powerful radar, and a electronic signals intercept package.
Q. Is Global Hawk the same as the U.S. Navy, NATO and German High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) programs?
A. While the overall airframes are similar, there are differences in structures, missions, sensors and customer-specific communications for the aircraft in each program. For instance, the U.S. Navy aircraft have added an anti-icing/de-icing system capable of breaking off ice that may have formed when flying in icing conditions due to their unique mission requirements. The US Navy has also added sensor systems for the unique maritime mission.
In many ways Global Hawk is comparable to a satellite, except it operates from the skies rather than space. It provides an unblinking eye, wherever, and whenever there is a need. The aircraft represents a significant technological achievement. No other aircraft in the world offers its unique mix of characteristics.
The Global Hawk uses its combination of capabilities to perform a variety of surveillance missions. Different types of equipment can be fitted into the aircraft to do these missions. The primary mission is to provide intelligence on key areas of the world using day and night vision long range cameras, radar to “see” long distances and through weather, and sensors that can intercept electronic signals. Other versions of the aircraft carry communications relay equipment so that friendly forces on the ground can communicate with each other over long distances, similar in concept to a cell phone tower.
Global Hawk’s revolutionary capabilities held great appeal even while it was still being developed as a new system. Because of its availability coupled with critical needs following the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, Global Hawk was immediately put into service even though it was still just an experimental aircraft system. The new Global Hawks have been flying in combat since then, racking up over 55,000 combat hours (about six continuous years worth). In the summer of 2011, the Air Force declared the Block 30 had reached initial operational capability.
Some key operations the Global Hawk has supported include:
Reliability: The Block 30 version of Global Hawk has exceeded USAF reliability goals for the last nine months. It is currently demonstrating a mission capable rate (aircraft reliability) of 84%, higher than the U-2, the manned aircraft Global Hawk is intended to replace.
Costs: The cost of a Global Hawk Block 30 is about $66 million each. Using Air Force data from 2011, the cost per hour collecting data over the adversary is about half that of a U-2 (the manned aircraft the Global Hawk is intended to replace).