Dryden acquired two Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration aircraft when the U.S. Air Force transferred the assets in September 2007.
Research flights are expected to begin in 2009 in support of NASA's Airborne Science program. The ability of the unmanned Global Hawk aircraft to autonomously fly long distances and remain aloft for extended periods brings a new capability to the science community for measuring, monitoring and observing Earth's remote locations.
The two Global Hawks were the first and sixth aircraft built under the original development program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and were made available to NASA when the Air Force had no further need for them.
As the world's first fully autonomous high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, a Global Hawk can fly up to 65,000 feet for more than 31 hours at a time. With a range of 11,000 nautical miles, the aircraft's endurance and range allow for nonstop flight from Dryden to the North Pole, with a seven-hour loiter period before returning.
Under a Space Act Agreement signed April 30, 2008, NASA and Northrop Grumman will share flight time on the aircraft.
The Earth Science division of the Science Mission Directorate is the primary NASA sponsor for the project. It is intended that the Global Hawks will be used for atmospheric chemistry and radiation science missions and hurricane research.