Global Hawk no. 871 recently completed its first flight as a NASA aircraft. (NASA Photo / Tony Landis) A second NASA Global Hawk Earth sciences aircraft took to the skies May 27 on its first checkout flight since being acquired by NASA almost three years ago. The remotely operated YRQ-4A was the first developmental Global Hawk aircraft built by the Ryan Aeronautical division of Northrop Grumman Corp. It was transferred to Dryden in late 2007 when the Air Force no longer needed it.
Bearing NASA tail no. 871, it will be used along with NASA's other Global Hawk, no. 872, in environmental science missions for the agency and testing for Northrop Grumman, both of which require the unmanned vehicle's long-endurance and high-altitude capabilities. No. 871 was the first of six built under contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. No. 872 was the sixth model; the first environmental science campaign undertaken with that aircraft, the Global Hawk Pacific Mission, was recently completed.
NASA and Northrop Grumman have partnered to operate the two Global Hawks for airborne science, testing and research. The flight of aircraft no. 871 is a milestone for the Global Hawk project; it had last been flown in August 2006 for a crosswind-landing test prior to its transfer to Dryden.
Lasting just over four hours, the May 27 functional check flight in restricted military testing airspace north of Edwards Air Force Base was devoted to validation of subsystem airworthiness and vehicle navigation and communications capabilities.
Initial flight maneuvers were conducted below 30,000 feet while a pilot and an observer in a NASA F/A-18 monitored the Global Hawk. Maneuvers were then conducted at high altitude north of Bishop, Calif., reaching a maximum altitude of about 58,200 feet during the check flight.
Dryden Global Hawk deputy project manager Phil Hall said he was very pleased with the flight's outcome. He said project staff would continue to fly the aircraft for pilot proficiency, testing and evaluation in preparation for research projects scheduled later this year.