In the United States, the RQ-4 Global Hawk is the largest remotely piloted aircraft
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Northrop Grumman for the United States Air Force. With a wingspan of 130 feet, the Global Hawk is the largest remotely piloted aircraft currently in use by the US military. It provides high-altitude, long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
The Global Hawk is designed for high-altitude flights of over 60,000 feet and can stay airborne for over 30 hours. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles of the Earth’s surface per day. The aircraft is powered by a Rolls Royce AE3007H turbofan engine and carries various sensors and communications equipment for its ISR missions. Some of the key sensors include infrared, radar and electro-optical sensors.
The Global Hawk first flew in 1998 and entered service with the US Air Force in 2001. Since then, it has been extensively used in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Over time, the capabilities of the aircraft have been enhanced with more powerful sensors, expanded communications and greater bandwidth for transmitting sensor data back to base.
The Global Hawk provides vital intelligence and situational awareness for the military without putting human pilots in harm’s way. Its ability to loiter over areas of interest for extended periods provides persistent surveillance that manned aircraft cannot match. With its large payload capacity, the Global Hawk can carry multiple sensors to gather information across a wide area.
Remotely piloted aircraft like the Global Hawk are increasingly important assets that provide critical ISR capabilities to the modern battlefield. As sensor, processing and communications technologies improve, the utility and effectiveness of large UAVs like the Global Hawk will only increase over time. Its huge size allows it to carry more powerful radar, cameras, signals intelligence receivers and other sensors than smaller UAVs. The US military will continue relying on the Global Hawk for high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the future.