A Day at the Museum: Global Hawk: Workhorse of Recon

The Global Hawk pictured above made its first flight in August 2004 and retired in May 2011 after flying more than 7,600 hours spread over 422 missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

The Global Hawk pictured above made its first flight in August 2004 and retired in May 2011 after flying more than 7,600 hours spread over 422 missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The Global Hawk flies missions all around the world. One of those landed at the Museum of Aviation's Century of Flight hangar - so to speak.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial reconnaissance system designed to capture real-time information for wartime efforts as well as homeland security and disaster relief.

With its impressive 116-foot wingspan, maneuvering the aircraft into the hangar was a delicate process. Part of the stand was put on the Global Hawk before it reached the Century of Flight hangar. A crane lifted the fuselage up in the air while workers stabilized the wings before bolting them into place, said Mike Rowland, museum curator.

The longest flight recorded was 33 hours by an all-female crew. The museum's Global Hawk flew most of its missions around Iraq between 2004 and 2011.

"It's one of the workhorses over Southwest Asia," said William Mayes, sustainment logistics manager for the Global Hawk at Robins Air Force Base.

Since 2001, the Global Hawk has flown more than 130,000 hours during Operation Enduring Freedom, according to a Northrop Grumman fact sheet.

The Global Hawk program received the Dr. James G. Roche Sustainment Excellence Award from the U.S. Air Force for three straight years from 2012-14 for demonstrating the most improved performance in aircraft maintenance and logistics readiness leading to lower flying hour costs, according to Mayes.

The block-10 aircraft, located at the museum, is an empty shell devoid of its computerized parts and camera equipment.

To fly the plane, there are four pilots, two for launch and recovery, and two for mission control. The crew is set up in a portable ground station which allow the launch and recovery team to be transported anywhere in the world.  Mission teams are located at the main operating bases.  The aircraft's computer system, though, is programmed to return to the closest base if it loses contact with its pilots.

The aircraft at the museum logged more than 7,600 hours in the air.

"It was a pretty hardworking plane," said Mayes.