Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAS celebrates 20th anniversary of first flight

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Northrop Grumman is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first flight of its autonomous Global Hawk high altitude long endurance aircraft, which occurred at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Feb. 28, 1998.

​The flight occurred after a pilot in a nearby ground control station clicked the take-off button on their control console, sending the Global Hawk into the desert sky. The UAS completed a 56-minute flight before landing safely and stopping itself on the runway, just six inches off the painted centerline.

The first Global Hawk aircraft, named Air Vehicle 1, or AV-1, was built by Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical—which Northrop Grumman would go on to acquire in 1999— at the Ryan factory near San Diego’s Lindbergh Field.

According to Lauren Stevens, vice president and program manager, Global Hawk program, Northrop Grumman, everyone who is a part of today’s Global Hawk program owes a debt of gratitude to those who were a part of the initial development of the Global Hawk program.

“Those of us in the Global Hawk program today owe a great deal of gratitude to those who developed the first Global Hawk and helped create this weapons system that is so vital to serving our nation and its allies,” Stevens says.

“AV-1 and the Global Hawk Program have shaped aviation history and some of those Ryan employees who worked on AV-1 are still on the program today working to increase the system’s capabilities and continue to defy expectations.”

Capable of flying at high altitudes for more than 30 hours, Global Hawk has been in active operation with the U.S. Air Force since 2001, and has accumulated more than 250,000 flight hours with missions flown in support of military and humanitarian operations. The UAS is designed to gather near-real-time, high-resolution imagery of large areas of land in all types of weather – day or night.

To this day, Global Hawk remains on duty around the world, according to Northrop Grumman, as the company says that the UAS is “one of the premier providers of persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information” in support of the U.S. and its allies.