Eighth RQ-4A follows predecessors built under technology demonstration programme

The first production Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk is expected to be delivered to the US Air Force's 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California, at the end of September pending completion of acceptance flights at Edwards AFB later this month.

This is the eighth Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle. The first seven vehicles were built under an advanced concept technology demonstration programme. A further 50 UAVs are planned for manufacture at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale plant in California, where the first production vehicle was rolled out on 1 August.

The second vehicle is due for delivery around year-end, says programme manager Carl Johnson. "We will also deliver the mission control element and, in the second production lot, we'll deliver the launch and recovery element," he adds. Northrop Grumman expects to build nine production RQ-4As before switching to the larger and more capable RQ-4B.

The company plans an RQ-4B critical design review in October, and expects to fly the first one "towards the end of 2005 or early 2006", says deputy programme manager George Guerra. It will have a 40m (130.9ft) wingspan and 14.5m length, compared with the RQ-4A's 35.4m and 13.5m, respectively. Payload will be1,360kg (3,000lb), a 455kg increase, and maximum take-off weight is boosted to 14,640kg compared with 11,600kg for the RQ-4A.

"One key improvement is the increased payload and the capability to take a SIGINT [signals intelligence] package - the BAE Systems-built prototype of which is at Edwards AFB for tests," says Guerra. Extra on-board electrical power for the enhanced systems will be provided by a 25kVA generator attached to the aircraft's Rolls-Royce AE3007 turbofan. This extra 150% power will extend electro-optic sensor and synthetic aperture radar range by about 50%. Tests on prototype systems, such as the sensor packages, will be performed using the first test Global Hawk, AV-1.

AV-1 is at Edwards being fit checked for several EADS systems, including a SIGINT payload, in preparation for a direct flight to Germany in mid-October.

Source: Flight International