On This Day – First Flight of Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk


This day in 1998 saw the first flight of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance aircraft.Similar in design to the Lockheed U-2, which was paramount in its discovery of missiles in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the RQ-4 is operated by the United States Air Force and Navy.

There have been 42 of this aircraft built since its inception, with a cost of $222.7 million per aircraft. It is currently supporting the United States in its war on terrorism and flies at altitudes of up to 65,000 feet for as much as 35 hours at speeds of 340 knots (391mph). Six RQ-4 demonstrator vehicles have been deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since 2002 and Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2003, completing over 4,300 combat hours with its ability to survey 40,000 square miles of terrain in a single day.

In April 2001, the RQ-4 made aviation history when it completed the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean by an unmanned, powered aircraft, flying from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to the Royal Australian Air Force Base, Edinburgh, South Australia.