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15 Aug 03. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted a national Certificate of Authorization (COA) to the U.S. Air Force to routinely fly the Northrop Grumman-produced (NYSE: NOC) RQ-4 Global Hawk aerial reconnaissance system in national airspace. The certificate is the first national COA granted for an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system.

The high altitude, long endurance Global Hawk currently flies in restricted airspace during take-off and landing before quickly ascending to altitudes high above commercial air traffic. The COA paves the way for it to support homeland defense missions in national airspace.

The national COA grant is the latest addition to Global Hawk’s long list of “firsts.” The list includes world records for a jet-powered UAV for endurance, distance and altitude; the first UAV to fly a non-stop roundtrip across the Atlantic Ocean; the first UAV to fly from the U.S. to the equator and back; the first UAV to fly across the Pacific Ocean (from the U.S. to Australia); and the first fully autonomous UAV to be used in combat operations.

Prior to the national COA, the FAA had granted Global Hawk access to national airspace in several FAA regions to allow the UAV system to participate in various military exercises.

To date, the FAA has granted Global Hawk access to more national and international airspace than any other UAV. It has been authorized for non-wartime operations in all but two of the United States FAA regions, as well as in international airspace, including Australia, Portugal, Spain, Scotland, Denmark, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Venezuela and Ecuador.

The system has flown more than 3,000 hours since its first flight in February 1998, more than fifty percent of which were logged during combat operations supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom.

Global Hawk’s fully redundant flight control avionics architecture allows it to fly a preprogrammed mission plan autonomously. This architecture, along with the use of systems such as a mode “S” transponder, precision altitude and navigation equipment, and UHF/VHF voice relay radios facilitate the UAV’s integration and communication with air traffic control. Global Hawk also has the ability to file Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plans, a function not performed to date by any other UAV system.

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