Moments and Milestones: Hawk Captures Collier

Moments & Milestones: Hawk Captures Collier

The Collier Trophy for the year 2000 has been bestowed on Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), one of a new class of aircraft designed to carry out military missions without risking human lives (see “Predator: First Watch,” Apr./May 2001).

Six years in development, Global Hawk claims the ability to fly farther without refueling and remain on station  longer than any other aircraft—all without a crew on board and without any control from the ground. It is designed to loiter for 24 hours, 4,000 miles from its home base, at 65,000 feet. Global Hawk can fly from the United States to Africa, remain airborne as long as a day, and return home without refueling.

During one demonstration flight, Global Hawk took off from Florida, traveled up the East Coast, crossed the Atlantic, passed over Portugal, and returned to Florida—nonstop. More recently, in a series of flights over Australia, the aircraft stayed aloft as long as 33 hours.

Carrying cameras, radars, and other equipment, Global Hawk can conduct long-range reconnaissance and surveillance flights under conditions where it may not be practical or tolerable to use manned craft. Its sensors can photograph or map an area as large as Illinois (40,000 square miles) in 24 hours. Images from the aircraft can be returned almost instantaneously. In a test over California, Global Hawk’s electro-optical sensors clearly imaged two fire extinguishers on the ground from 56,000 feet. Because ground personnel can communicate with the aircraft by satellite links and other means, Global Hawk is capable of not only flying pre-programmed missions but changing course or modifying its tasks as instructed.

The Coast Guard is exploring the Global Hawk’s suitability for support of law enforcement operations, such as interdiction of drugs or other contraband. Assisting with detection of illegal immigration is another possible assignment.

Sharing the Collier Trophy with Northrop Grumman are Rolls-Royce (turbofan engine), Raytheon (sensors and ground segment system), L3 Communications (communications system), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (program manager), and the U.S. Air Force.

The Collier Trophy is awarded annually by the National Aeronautic Association to recognize the year’s greatest achievement in American aeronautics or astronautics, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles. The 526-pound bronze trophy is kept on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

—Stuart Nixon