Global Hawk OKed for U.S. flights

Global Hawk OKed for U.S. flights

The Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, famous for precision surveillance and targeting in Iraq and Afghanistan, yesterday received Federal Aviation Administration approval to make routine flights in U.S. airspace after filing preprogrammed flight plans. The move opens the way for UAV use in homeland defense.

'The pilot is in a mobile trailer on the ground'maybe even on the other side of the world,' said Maj. Mike Heironimus of the Global Hawk program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

'The pilot keys a microphone, which is relayed to the Global Hawk by satellite links,' Heironimus said. 'The computer systems on the Global Hawk relay that voice signal to air traffic controllers on the ground or in another aircraft. You wouldn't even know it was unmanned.' The same thing happens in reverse with air traffic controllers' voice commands, he said.

The 6-year-old Global Hawk, built by Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., has redundant flight control avionics and precision altitude and navigation equipment.

It can stay aloft for up to 24 hours at up to 65,000 feet, out of range of most other traffic. It carries radar, electro-optical and infrared sensors to collect data and imagery. Two ground stations tell the UAV where to land and where to point its sensors to capture images.

'Ultimately, the Global Hawk could operate like a manned aircraft, where we just file a flight plan and off we go,' program director Col. Scott Coale said in a statement. That would require proof of ability equal to human pilots' at avoiding in-air collisions.

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