San Diego Union-Tribune

April 24, 2001

San Diego-made pilotless plane sets distance record


WASHINGTON -- The San Diego-produced Global Hawk pilotless surveillance aircraft set a distance record for unmanned planes yesterday, completing a nonstop journey of 7,267 miles. Flying from California to Australia, it became the first pilotless plane to cross the Pacific Ocean.

"This was a huge and significant milestone for our program," said George Guerra, deputy director of the Global Hawk program for Northrop Grumman.

The jet-powered drone flew Down Under to take part in an extended exercise with the Australian military, which is considering buying an undetermined number. Northrop Grumman's unmanned systems center in San Diego is developing Global Hawk for the U.S. Air Force.

It is equipped with a sophisticated radar and an infrared sensor, which allow it to collect intelligence at night and in bad weather, and a powerful camera that can identify types of vehicles from 12 miles high. The aircraft is designed to fly thousands of miles, spend nearly a day surveying a large area and return to its base, all without human input.

The drone is the size of a business jet but with long wings, like a U-2 spy plane. The Air Force is expected to buy more than 60 at about $15 million each.