NASA's Global Hawk # 871 soars aloft from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on its first checkout flight since being transferred to NASA in late 2007. The aircraft is the first Global Hawk built in the original Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. (NASA / 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 Northrop Grumman Corporation's Ryan Aeronautical division, and was transferred to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in late 2007 when the Air Force had no further need of the craft.
Carrying NASA tail number 871, it will join NASA's other Global Hawk, tail number 872, in performing environmental science missions for NASA and testing for Northrop Grumman that require the unmanned aircraft's long-endurance and high-altitude capabilities.
The aircraft is the first Global Hawk built by Ryan Aeronautical in San Diego, one of six built under contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program. The sixth aircraft was also transferred to NASA, and recently completed its first environmental science campaign, the Global Hawk Pacific Mission.
NASA and Northrop Grumman have partnered to operate the two Global Hawks for Airborne Science, testing, and research. The flight of Air Vehicle 871 is a milestone for the Global Hawk project. The aircraft had last flown in August 2006 for a crosswind landing test prior to its transfer to NASA 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 the aircraft's subsystem airworthiness, vehicle navigation and communications capabilities.
Initial flight maneuvers were conducted below 30,000 ft while the Global Hawk was being monitored by a pilot and an observer in a NASA F/A-18. The Global Hawk then conducted maneuvers at high altitude north of Bishop, Calif., reaching a maximum altitude of about 58,200 ft during the check flight.
Dryden's Global Hawk deputy project manager Phil Hall said he was very pleased with the outcome of this first checkout flight. He said project staff would continue to fly the aircraft for pilot proficiency, testing and evaluation in preparation for research project scheduled later this year.