Northrop Grumman has released video of the first flight of its improved Block 20 version of the US Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle.

The next-generation Global Hawk made a 1.5h flight on 1 March from Northrop’s Palmdale manufacturing facility in California to Edwards AFB, to begin flight testing.

The first Block 20 aircraft is the 17th Global Hawk to be produced and follows seven technology demonstrators and nine Block 10 air vehicles, two of which have been deployed to support US operations in Iraq.

Changes to the Block 20 include a 4.6m (15ft)-longer wingspan and stretched and strengthened fuselage, increasing internal payload capacity by 50% to 1,360kg (3,000lb).

The air vehicle will carry an enhanced integrated sensor suite including longer-range electro-optical, infrared and synthetic-aperture radar systems and, for the first time, a signals intelligence package.

A full technical description of the Block 20 Global Hawk, complete with cutaway, was published by Flight International in 4-10 July 2006.

The upgraded airframe will also be the basis for the Block 30 and 40 Global Hawks, which will carry new sensor payloads. The USAF plans to buy six Block 20s, 26 Block 30s and 15 Block 40s.

Northrop says the first Block 20 Global Hawk will be delivered to the US Air Force’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California after operational test and evaluation late next year.


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