Flight International online news 12:00GMT: Northrop Grumman has moved closer to completing the first of its next-generation RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle due to recent deliveries of two critical airframe components.

Global Hawk - RQ-4B 
                                                                                              Source: Northrop Grumman

In July, Vought Aircraft delivered the RQ-4B's new 131ft-long graphite-composite wing assembly and Aurora Flight Sciences delivered the first set of the RQ-4B's vertical tails.

With these two critical components, flight testing of the first RQ-4B is scheduled to commence in the second half of 2006.

Northrop Grumman is currently producing four of the new RQ-4B Global Hawks at its production facility in Palmdale, California.

With 3,000 pounds of payload capacity, the RQ-4B Global Hawk will offer 50% more payload capacity than its currently deployed sibling, the RQ-4A.

This added capability will allow it to carry more intelligence sensors, enhancing its ability to simultaneously collect imagery, signals intelligence and infrared and radar information, and transfer it to the warfighter in near-real time.

Global Hawk flies autonomously at an altitude of at least 60,000 feet, well above inclement weather and prevailing winds for more than 32 hours at an average of 320 knots. During a single mission, it can travel more than 10,000 nautical miles from its take-off location, and it provides detailed image-based intelligence on 40,000 square miles. 

Source: Flight International