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Deployed Global Hawks surpass 30,000 combat flying hours, 1,500 sorties

by Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

2/18/2010 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- One of the largest unmanned aerial systems operating in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the RQ-4 Global Hawk, surpassed 30,000 combat flying hours and 1,500 combat sorties Feb. 10 here.

The Global Hawks are assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. They provide a broad spectrum of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations.

The 380th AEW Global Hawks reached their 1,500th combat sortie on Feb. 10.

The historic sortie and flying hour mark nearly coincided, said Capt. Michelle Campbell, the lead aircraft maintenance officer for the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's Hawk aircraft maintenance unit.

"When our 1,500th combat sortie completed we were at 29999.4 hours," Captain Campbell said. "On our very next sortie the next night (Feb. 11), as soon as the (Global) Hawk cleared the airfield, that's when we reached 30,000."

The RQ-4 arrived to this deployed location in October 2001, shortly after the events of Sept .11, 2001, said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Green, the 380th EAMXS Hawk AMU superintendent.

"The aircraft has been a constant presence here since then providing high altitude-long endurance ISR to the combatant commander," Sergeant Green said. "The significance of 30,000 combat hours and 1,500 flights is high. This began as a test platform and was never intended to fly that many sorties or hours. Because of the capability the RQ-4 brought, it has been able to pave the way for a future generation of RQ-4s and has driven the overall (UAS) programs to even greater heights than expected."

At the core of the RQ-4's capabilities is its ability to take photos using its integrated sensor suite.

Tech. Sgt. Edward Andrews, a Global Hawk avionics systems craftsman with the 380th EAMXS Hawk AMU also deployed from the 9th AMXS at Beale AFB, said his primary job with the airframe is to care for the "center package."

That package includes sensors comprised of synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and medium-wave infrared sensors.

The RQ-4 reaching these historical achievements speaks volumes for those who maintain them, Sergeant Andrews said.

"The Hawk AMU knows every day we have to prep the Global Hawk for an important mission, a mission to help troops on the ground which in turn helps save lives," said Sergeant Andrews, who has helped prepare the (aircraft system) for more than 110 combat sorties. "I like what I do because it is such a unique role and so few Airmen have a part in something like this."

Another RQ-4 maintainer with the 380th EAMXS, Staff Sgt. Michael Goenner, prepared the Global Hawk on more than 50 combat missions.

"The aircraft has to be ready to go every day," said Sergeant Goenner, who helped with the both historic launches on Feb. 10 and 11. "We finish our pre-flight servicing checks every day to make sure everything is good to launch for the next mission."

"It's an honor to be involved and to see it become accomplished. For an airframe that was never supposed to go this long, we are essentially making history every day we use it," Sergeant Goenner said.

For Airmen 1st Class Jessica George and Rueben Mendoza, both RQ-4 cyber transport specialists with the Hawk AMU from the 9th AMXS at Beale AFB, knowing they had a part in the success of the Global Hawk's achievements is special.

"When it actually happened, I didn't realize it," said Airman George, who cares for the launch recovery element that guides the RQ-4 in flight. "We come in and work hard every day. The historic launches weren't our focus, but looking back I'm glad I was here for it."

"I enjoy setting up everything for our missions," Airman Mendoza added. "Being here while that took place is something I will definitely remember."

Sergeant Green said the aircraft has proved its capability and the importance of that capability to the theater of operations more than 10-fold.

"Throughout those 30,000 combat hours, the aircraft has provided near real time
imagery to meet strategic planning across the full spectrum of the battlefield," Sergeant Green said. "The key to its success falls on the shoulders of the young men and women of the Hawk AMU. Maintaining an aircraft this new has many challenges.

"These young Air Force maintainers, combined with field service representative support, were able to set record maintenance rates to include two-plus years without a single cancellation for maintenance," Sergeant Green said. "This is key to persistent ISR in the theater."

"Our guys have been doing an absolutely awesome job here," Captain Campbell added. "They are among some of the best groups of people I've ever had the pleasure to work with. I can't say enough about them."

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