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Airborne spy takes to South Pacific skies

One of America’s largest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, more commonly known as spy drones, is operating in the South Pacific.

Last week a Northrop Grumman Global Hawk flew from Edwards Air Force Base in California to a point north of Tahiti and back.

During the mission, which lasted almost 24 hours, the drone flew at a height of 65,000ft at a speed of almost 650km/h.

Operated by Nasa, it is being used to study climate change in a project known as the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX).

In 2001 the Global Hawk made aviation history when it completed the first non-stop flight across the Pacific by a drone from California to South Australia, a distance of 13,840km.

The US operated them on top secret spy missions out of the Edinburgh Air Force Base near Adelaide to Afghanistan for at least six years after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The drones missions were uncovered by local aviation enthusiasts and reported on ABC television’s Foreign Correspondent programme.

Over the years Global Hawks have been used extensively by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, completing more than 4300 combat hours.

They have been used to survey large areas with pinpoint accuracy, highlighting military targets.

The big, jet-powered drones, which have a 35m wingspan, are controlled by ground-based pilots thousands of kilometres away in much the same way as flight simulation enthusiasts fly aircraft on their home computers – except this is for real.

The Global Hawk has a range of around 25,000km and can remain airborne for up to 42 hours.

So a flight from the US to New Zealand and back is well within its range.

Trying to spot one, though, will be difficult as it flies around 30,000ft higher than most commercial jet airliners.

View the Global Hawk: http://galonghaulnews.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/odd-ball-over-south-pacific.html

A map of its flight path: http://flightaware.com/live/flight/NASA872

rvaughan@nbr.co.nz

More by Rod Vaughan

Comments and questions
4

Climate Change my a*se.

New Zealand should be taking advantage of similar drones to patrol fisheries both along the coastline and in the greater EEZ. We have incredible resources that are being destroyed by criminals - many of whom are New Zealanders. An eye in the sky will end this.

It's been sent down here because of Kim Dotcom and the pending movie. Teaser now on you tube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f4bHwlfiYU&sns=em

They are expensive to procure and operate and the current NZ govt would be adverse to obtaining such capability because it would involve spending money. It is interesting that the USAF has reactivated some U2s because they are cheaper to operate and have better sensors with higher resolution than what can currently able to be operated on the Global Hawk. There are other UAVs that can offer similar capabilities. For example the RAAF operate the IAI Heron. Even if we had such capabilty what do you suggest we can do if we find law breakers in the EEZ? The RNZN has been so run down by the politicians that it may not be able to get out to sea to apprehend said law breakers and RNZAF has no fast jets to chase and intercept said law breakers if needed.