First NATO RQ-4B Global Hawk Takes Flight in California

 - December 21, 2015, 9:40 AM
The first Global Hawk built for NATO's AGS program touches down on December 19 at Edwards Air Force base. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The first NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) aircraft, an unmanned RQ-4B Global Hawk, completed its maiden flight on December 19 from U.S. Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. The 16-ton gross takeoff weight aircraft “successfully executed a comprehensive range of test points” before landing at nearby Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

Representatives of manufacturer Northrop Grumman and the 15-nation NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (Nagsma) observed the first flight, which began a six-month period of ground and airborne testing. Nagsma awarded Northrop Grumman a $1.7 billion prime contract in May 2012 to supply the five-aircraft AGS system.

On December 21, Airbus Defence and Space announced that it has completed the first mobile general ground station for the program. NATO has ordered six units of the ground stations, which are integrated in two containers that can be transported by truck, aircraft, train or ship. Airbus presented the first unit to NATO at its Friedrichshafen, Germany, facility.

Northrop Grumman built the NATO-1 aircraft fuselage at its Moss Point, Miss. facility; the wing was constructed by Triumph Aerostructures-Vought Aircraft Division in Dallas. It mated the wing and fuselage at Palmdale, where a roll-out ceremony was held in June.

The Block 40 Global Hawk is fitted with Northrop Grumman’s AN/ZPY-2 multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) electronically scanned radar, which provides synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator capabilities and tracking of air targets. The NATO AGS system will be able to fuse sensor data, continuously detect and track moving objects and provide detailed imagery via direct or satellite broadband datalink.

“The NATO AGS aircraft is part of a system that will allow NATO to meet the requirements of emerging situations around the world,” said Jim Edge, Nagsma general manager. “The program will provide unprecedented flexibility and intelligence to the alliance.”

Northrop Grumman expects to ferry the first NATO AGS aircraft to Italy next year. It will be stationed at Italy’s Sigonella Air Base, which is also home to U.S. Air Force Global Hawks.