Global Hawk joins Firefighting and Environmental Research Efforts

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Global Hawk used for Environmental ResearchThe Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), was designed, developed, and is now manufactured here in San Diego by Northrop Grumman. It was pressed into early action during final development and testing for the War in Afghanistan. The Global Hawk has been used extensively in both Afghanistan and Iraq, collecting high resolution images in a manner not capable with our U-2 spy planes. In addition, it has been used in the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, identifying IEDs, and patrolling border activity. Aviation Week provides a detailed description of the Global Hawk’s missions from their exclusive, behind the scenes look, at a day in the life of a Global Hawk. The UAV now plays not only an essential part in military efforts, but is becoming a useful tool to fight forest fires and perform environmental research.

Environmental Research:

NASA recently acquired two unmanned Global Hawk aircraft. They note the unmanned aircraft’s ability to autonomously fly long distances and remain aloft for extended periods of time brings a new capability to the science community for measuring, monitoring and observing remote locations of the Earth. Among NASA’s expectations for the drone is more accurate global warming research and ozone depletion measurements, better hurricane tracking and landfall prediction, improved weather forecasting, and other comprehensive Earth observations. The unmanned drones will overcome weaknesses in research currently performed through the use of satellites. The Global Hawk allows researchers to perform persistent observation of a specific area of interest.

The unmanned aircraft can carry an extensive payload of up to 1,500 lbs in scientific equipment, for over 31 hours, and up to 65,000 feet in altitude. The ability to add wing pods to the drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), may allow the educational community to explore aspects of UAS-based high altitude atmospheric science and perform long-duration Earth science experiments without interference to the mission of the primary paying research customer. These drones will be managed by NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Learn more about NASA’s expectations and scientific applications for the Global Hawks.

Firefighting Effort

Global Hawk Photo of Poomacha Fire (Air Force Photo)The Global Hawk was put to domestic use for the first time during the October wildfires in San Diego. The drone provided detailed photos, including one of the Poomacha Fire shown here, to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This allowed decision makers to get a better overview of what was needed to fight the fires. The UAVs are particularly helpful at night when most firefighting aircraft are required to be grounded for pilot safety. The pilotless UAVs can carryout their work 24 hours a day.

The people of San Diego continue to lead the way in the development of new technology, especially in the Defense Industry. In a future post, I will talk about the other well known UAV, the Predator, which was also developed here in San Diego and how it too is being put to both military and civilian use.

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