Northrop plans October roll-out for Eurohawk prototype

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An October roll-out is planned for Germany's Eurohawk high-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, California facility. But its first flight could be delayed until early 2010.

A variant of Northrop's RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 20 UAV developed in conjunction with EADS, the Eurohawk's first flight had already been delayed by six months until December, and could now slip into January 2010, the US prime contractor says.

The first flight will be a 48km (25nm) transit from Palmdale to Edwards AFB, where the prototype will undergo system, design and development (SDD) testing. Northrop says it is still discussing the transfer flight with the US Federal Aviation Administration.

EADS says it is not aware of any reason for a January slip, and adds that it expects the SDD Eurohawk to fly itself at 45,000ft (13,700m) from "Edwards AFB to Manching in southern Germany via northern Scotland in mid-2010".

That flight will take place after agreements are secured from the US, UK and German authorities over the next 14 months, and the award of a preliminary flight airworthiness certificate for the SDD vehicle. EADS also plans for the Eurohawk's German ground control station to take over from Northrop once the UAV reaches northern Scotland.

Germany will employ a ground control station similar to that used with the US Air Force's Global Hawks, and in the future it will have an additional station for the Eurohawk's EADS-developed sensor payload. Northrop says it will be possible to operate more than one Eurohawk from a ground control station, but that satellite communications availability could be a limiting factor.

Before its transatlantic flight, the SDD air vehicle will go through acceptance tests for the German authorities at Edwards AFB, with these to be similar to those used by the USAF for its Global Hawks.

Northrop still expects the German government to decide in 2011 whether it wants to buy four more Eurohawks for a fleet of five, including the prototype. If approved, these will be built in Palmdale before having their sensor payloads integrated in Germany. Northrop says it is already discussing a service agreement for a five-strong fleet with Berlin.

In preparation for the SDD vehicle's roll-out and first flight, Northrop Global Hawk business development director international Dane Marolt says: "Very soon it will go into the flight-test hangar for power-on, system tests."