The Global Hawk has been flying for close to 15 years, and its development has been a twisting road filled with dead ends and wandering requirements. After over $10B spent and almost 50 airframes produced I ventured to Edwards AFB to get a rare close up look at what we actually paid for.
The Global Hawk family just hit 100,000 hours of combat and operational support flying in its career, and the first Global Hawk ever built has just flown its 100th mission for NASA. Undoubtedly, these are serious milestone for a program that has struggled to mature and to secure its relevance within an Air Force that is plagued with often conflicting and wandering priorities.
Just after I arrived at Edwards AFB, as we were making our way out onto the airfield in the brilliant morning light for some shots around the sprawling super-base, a Global Hawk came rocketing off the runway, rotating sharply and steeply climbing to a couple hundred feet before making a hard, almost fighter-like break to the northeast. I was really struck by what I had just seen. These aircraft, with their massive glider like wings, always seemed like under-powered and fragile albatrosses, well apparently that assumption was very wrong.
Later in the day I would find out that the aircraft I saw make such a dramatic departure was on its way to be delivered to Beale AFB. Once the home to the SR-71 Blackbird, and still home to the U-2 Dragon Lady and MC-12 Liberty fleet, Beale AFB, the USAF’s premier reconnaissance base, is also the operational Global Hawk fleet’s primary nest.