Global Hawk set for U.S. skies

Global Hawk

The Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, famed for precision targeting in Iraq and Afghanistan, last month received Federal Aviation Administration approval to make routine flights in U.S. airspace with 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, and the voice signal is relayed to the Global Hawk by satellite links. The computer systems on the Global Hawk relay that 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 aircraft, built by Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of El Segundo, Calif., has redundant flight control avionics and precision altitude and navigation equipment.

It stays 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.

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