SAN DIEGO, Nov. 20, 2009 -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) announced the U.S. Air Force has granted the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) a military Airworthiness Certification (AWC), a significant milestone in the life of the aircraft system and a step on the path to routine unmanned flight within the United States.
The AWC process verifies an aircraft design has met performance requirements within the mission profile to safely fly in national airspace and assures operators and mission managers that the production articles conform to the design. In granting the certification to RQ-4, the next generation of Block 20 and 30 Global Hawk UAS, the U.S. Air Force has recognized the aircraft's ability to routinely fly safely within design parameters. The certification process evaluated more than 600 airworthiness criteria.
"This was a more rigorous and more complete evaluation than that of any other unmanned system," said George Guerra, vice president of HALE systems for Northrop Grumman. "With this historic accomplishment and more than 35,000 total flight hours, most of that time in combat support over the skies of Iraq and Afghanistan, Global Hawk continues to be a trailblazer in UAS certifications and a pathfinder supporting our men and women overseas in combat."
Just as commercial aircraft are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), military aircraft are evaluated against certain criteria including durability, capability to adjust to sudden changes in aerodynamic forces, and redundancies of systems and subsystems. Without this Air Force certification, the FAA cannot grant permission to fly within the United States, which is the next step in the on-going process to accept the routine flight of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace.
"This certification resulted from a large collaborative effort between the government and the contractor, agreeing on standards and verification methods and ultimately coming together on the assessment of the system. With its Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration legacy design and early push to support Overseas Contingency Operations and U-2 retirement, this was the first comprehensive assessment of the aircraft to ensure it is ready to fly in national airspace and ready for the user to train with at Beale AFB," said Yvette Weber, chief engineer at the 303d Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
The certification is the latest example of success for the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk program. In 2006, the Block 10 version, or RQ-4A, made history when it became the first UAS to earn both a military airworthiness certification and a national certificate of authorization to operate in the national airspace. This airworthiness certification covers all Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawks delivered to the U.S. Air Force thus far.
Global Hawk flies autonomously at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet, above inclement weather and prevailing winds, for more than 32 hours at a time. The first-generation experimental Global Hawks deployed overseas to the Persian Gulf less than two months after Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, Block 10 Global Hawks have been flying nearly continuously, supporting combat operations in the region. The Block 20 and 30 systems, capable of carrying 50 percent more payload with improved sensors, are scheduled to begin operations with the U.S. Air Force at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and at several overseas locations, next year.
Recently, the Block 20 aircraft system was chosen to be modified with special communications relay equipment to support coalition combat forces in Afghanistan. The Block 30 Global Hawk carries sophisticated imaging and electronic signals sensors on missions that can exceed 30 hours. A similar certification will be granted in the near future for the Block 40 system, which is based on the same aircraft design of Block 20 and 30 but carries an advanced radar imaging and ground moving target tracking system used to track enemy movement, regardless of weather conditions on the ground.
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.
CONTACT: Gemma Loochkartt Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (858) 618-4245 firstname.lastname@example.org