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Global Hawk

The US Air Force’s (USAF) has RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has completed its first operational flight in UK airspace.

The UAS flew from an air base in the Mediterranean and across several European countries, including the UK, as part of a Nato trial, code-named Unified Vision 2014, to aid the development of the Nato alliance ground surveillance (AGS) system.

Carried out in controlled and segregated airspace at heights of 50,000ft, following well-established UK Civil Aviation Authority measures commonly put in place for military drills, the flights made a useful contribution to understanding how remotely-piloted air systems (RPAS) can be safely integrated within the current aviation framework.

UK Joint Forces Command capability director and Ministry of Defence unmanned air systems spokesman air vice marshal Phil Osborn said the trial would help in the development of the Nato AGS system and the future airspace integration of RPAS.

"It is good to see existing airspace procedures enabling the seamless integration of remotely-piloted air systems, such as the unarmed Global Hawk aircraft, within European airspace," Osborn said.

"The trial would help in the development of the Nato AGS system and the future airspace integration of RPAS."

The Nato’s AGS is a 13-nation programme aimed at providing ground, maritime and air commanders with persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data using RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS and a mission operation support centre, at the main operating base in Sigonella, Italy.

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Comprising five Global Hawks, the system will be acquired by Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the US.

Manufactured by Northrop Grumman, the RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAS designed to provide field commanders with high-resolution, near real-time imagery of large geographic areas in support of military, humanitarian and environmental missions.

Image: A USAF Global Hawk remotely-piloted aircraft in flight. Photo: courtesy of library image.

Defence Technology