RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV | U.S. military’s premier surveillance drone

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude and long-endurance UAV that is integrated with a sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.  Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. The Global Hawk provides persistent near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence (IMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT) and moving target indicator (MTI) sensors.
The above video shows the drone in operation around the world and highlights the NATO operations control and Mission Control Element at Beale Air Force Base.

Global Hawk military UAV


A EQ-4 Global Hawk ready for action. The Global Hawk converted to an EQ-4 communication relay configuration carries the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) payload.
Global Hawk surveillance drone

Global Hawk is flown by a Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) and a Mission Control Element (MCE). Watch the above video to see both the MCE at Beale and the NATO operations control.
The LRE is located at the aircraft base and functions to launch and recover the aircraft while en route to and from the target area.  The MCE controls the Global Hawk for the bulk of the ISR mission.  Like the LRE, the MCE is manned by one pilot, but adds a sensor operator to the crew. Command and control data links enable complete dynamic control of the aircraft. The pilot workstations in the MCE and LRE are the control and display interface (cockpit) providing aircraft health and status, sensors status and a means to alter the navigational track of the aircraft. From this station, the pilot also communicates with outside entities to coordinate the mission (air traffic control, airborne controllers, ground controllers, other ISR assets).

The sensor operator workstation provides capability to task the sensor, dynamically update the collection plan in real time, initiate sensor calibration and monitor sensor status. The sensor operator also assists the exploitation node with image quality control, target deck prioritization and scene tracking to ensure fluid operations.

RQ-4 Global Hawk maintenance

The system offers a wide variety of employment options. The unmatched range and 30+ hour endurance allow tremendous flexibility in meeting mission requirements. In 2014, an RQ-4 Block 40 flew a 34.3 hour flight, setting the endurance record for longest unrefueled flight by a U.S. Air Force aircraft.

In the RQ-4 name, the “R” is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and “Q” means unmanned aircraft system. The “4” refers to the series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems. The “E” in EQ-4 delineates the communication configuration of the BACN equipped aircraft.

The Global Hawk is operated by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, and the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, but aircraft are rotated to operational detachments worldwide. The 1st RS at Beale AFB provides formal training for all RQ-4 pilots and Block 30 sensor operators, while the 348 RS formal training unit (FTU) at Grand Forks AFB provides training for all Block 40 sensor operators.

Global Hawk on a mission
Global Hawk mission

RQ-4 Global Hawk Specifications:

  • Primary function: high-altitude, long-endurance ISR
  • Power Plant: Rolls Royce-North American F137-RR-100 turbofan engine
  • Thrust: 7,600 pounds
  • Wingspan: 130.9 feet (39.8 meters)
  • Length: 47.6 feet (14.5 meters)
  • Height: 15.3 feet (4.7 meters)
  • Weight: 14,950 pounds (6,781 kilograms)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 32,250 pounds (14628 kilograms)
  • Fuel Capacity: 17,300 pounds (7847 kilograms)
  • Payload: 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms)
  • Speed: 310 knots (357 mph)
  • Range: 12,300 nautical miles
  • Endurance: more than 34 hours
  • Ceiling: 60,000 feet (18,288 meters)
  • Armament: None
  • Crew (remote): three (LRE pilot, MCE pilot, and sensor operator)
    (Current as of October 2014)
    Source: U.S. AirForce