Global Hawks were designed to perform high-altitude, long-endurance reconnaissance and intelligence missions for the Air Force, which has turned over to NASA three versions built in the developmental process.
“The Global Hawk is a fantastic platform because it gives us expanded access to the atmosphere beyond what we have with piloted aircraft,” said David Fahey, co-mission scientist and a research physicist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “We can go to regions we couldn’t reach or go to previously explored regions and study them for extended periods that are impossible with conventional planes.”
Able to carry more than 1,000 pounds of science instruments, a Global Hawk can operate at altitudes up to 65,000 feet and stay aloft for 30 hours while flying a distance of more than 12,600 miles.”This will allow Global Hawks to sample remote regions of the atmosphere such as the equatorial regions of the oceans and the arctic and Antarctic.” Fahey added.
The Global Hawk is effectively a hybrid between a satellite and an aircraft, said Paul Newman, senior scientist in NASA’s Atmospherics, Chemistry and Dynamics Branch at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “This plane naturally flies in the stratosphere, so it’s a perfect platform for ozone-depletion science,”Newman said..
Acquisition of the Global Hawks marks the latest conversion of military technology to civilian use by NASA.The space agency, for example, flies a converted high-altitude U-2 spy plane that has been redesignated ER-2, and a Predator B unmanned aircraft that has been given the Native American name Ikhana. In the 1990s, NASA used two Air Force SR-71 Blackbird spy planes for high-speed, high-altitude research.