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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

01 Mar 10. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system(UAS) made aviation history Feb. 2 when it successfully completed its first roundtrip flight from the company’s Palmdale, Calif., manufacturing facility. AF-20, a Block 30 Global Hawk built for the U.S. Air Force, performed the historic mission, soaring at altitudes of 58,300 feet for approximately four hours and 18 minutes. “This was the first time ever that the same Global Hawk has taken off and landed in a single mission from Palmdale, heralding a new era of flights in and out of the facility,” said George Guerra, Northrop Grumman vice president of High-Altitude, Long-Endurance systems. “It’s also a huge leap forward for the site as we achieve full production acceptance activities and direct deliveries to the aircraft’s main operating base at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.” AF-20 is the eighth consecutive production Global Hawk to complete its operational check flight on the first attempt. The mission also marked the first time the sixth Air Force mission control element and a King Air chase aircraft were utilized. Prior to this flight, two Global Hawks, AF-12 and AF-16, simultaneously flew historic missions on Dec. 14, 2009. AF-12, one of two Block 20 aircraft to be modified with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) Joint Urgent Operation Need (JUON) system payload, became the first UAS to land at Palmdale. At the same time, the AF-16 aircraft, which will be equipped with an airborne signals intelligence payload, became the first Block 30 to fly out of Beale Air Force Base, where it is currently being used for training and for initial operational test and evaluation later this year. Part of the Air Force’s Objective Gateway program, BACN is an airborne gateway and communications relay system that enables warfighters to rapidly share data and information gathered by multiple users across multiple dissimilar systems present within the battlefield,” said Guerra. “It is the top urgent operational need requested by field commanders and scheduled for deployment by the end of this year.”

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