White House officials have confirmed that unmanned and unarmed Global Hawk reconnaissance drones are patrolling an area twice the size of Lesotho in an effort to locate nearly 300 kidnapped Nigerian girls, abducted by militant group Boko Haram last month.
Cruising at extremely high altitudes, the Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) can survey large geographic areas with pinpoint accuracy, giving its operators real-time information regarding an enemy’s location (in this case, the kidnappers and their victims) and resources.
Once mission parameters are programmed in, the aircraft can autonomously taxi, take off, fly, remain on station capturing imagery, return and land. Ground-based operators monitor the system’s health and status, and can re-task the air system’s navigation and sensor plans during flight as necessary.
Although the specifications of the Global Hawk aircraft in the search mission have not been revealed, it is known that they are equipped with Raytheon electro-optic/infrared sensors, which suggests that they could (theoretically) locate kidnappers moving under cover of darkness. They are also fitted with wide-band satellite data links and line-of-sight data links. The bulge at the top- front surface of the fuselage, which gives the Global Hawk its distinctive appearance, houses a wideband satellite communications antenna.
The synthetic aperture radar and ground moving-target indicator (GMTI) operates at X-band with a 600 MHz bandwidth and 3,5 kW peak power. The system can obtain images with a 90 cm resolution in its wide area search mode and 30 cm resolution in its spot mode.
The wings and tail of the aircraft are of graphite composite construction and the fuselage (containing pressurised payload and avionics compartments) is made from aluminium. Power is provided by an AE 3007H turbofan engine from Rolls-Royce North America. The engine is mounted on the top surface of the rear fuselage section, with the engine exhaust between the V-shaped tail wings.
— In April 2001, a Global Hawk 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 in California to the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Edinburgh, South Australia.
— In a posting on our Web site a couple of months back, we revealed details of SkyWatch’s Huginn X1 drone, originally designed for the military and now used by security companies, fire departments and search-and-rescue services globally.
— Still on the subject of flying machines, you might like to enter a PM competition and stand to win a Parrot A.R. Drone worth R4 499.