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Global Observer makes first hydrogen-powered flight

1/12/2011 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- The Global Observer unmanned aircraft system successfully completed its first flight powered by the aircraft's hydrogen-fueled propulsion system here Jan. 6.

This milestone marks the beginning of high-altitude, long-endurance flight testing for the demonstration and operational utility phase of this Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program.

"Global Observer has moved quickly from development and testing toward demonstrating mission-ready, affordable persistence," said Tim Conver, the chairman and chief executive officer for AeroVironment, Inc., the maker of the system.

"Similar to a satellite, Global Observer is the first system designed to provide a 24/7/365 unblinking eye and continuous communications link over any location on the earth's surface for as long as needed," Mr. Conver said.

"The joint AV and U.S. government team developed Global Observer to meet today's urgent requirements for persistence and to enable the development of much more cost-effective solutions for the future," he said. "The speed with which we have achieved this milestone reflects the benefits of an effective government-industry partnership."

The hydrogen-powered flight lasted four hours and reached an altitude of 5,000 feet above mean sea level over the Air Force Flight Test Center. This first flight follows the successful battery-powered flight test phase of the demonstration program that took place during the months of August and September 2010.

Officials from the 412th Test Wing's Global Vigilance Combined Test Force will now systematically expand the altitude and duration of test flights to validate the aircraft's high-altitude, long-endurance performance.

These flights will include the Air Force's Joint Aerial Layer Network Tactical Communications Suite payload. This capability provides persistent, IP-based aerial communications infrastructure that extends communications from a Global Observer aircraft positioned at 65,000 feet above sea level. The joint operational utility of the Global Observer system will also be assessed during this flight test series for future U.S. Government, civil, and military uses.

AeroVironment officials said that because of its extreme endurance and range, the Global Observer can be based out-of-theater, which will further reduce operating costs and local air traffic congestion while significantly reducing risk to operational personnel.

AV officials said they plan to make Global Observer systems available for procurement and for operation as a turnkey service to provide communications and remote imaging in a manner similar to satellite services, but at a much lower cost.

AV officials are developing Global Observer to operate as a "stratospheric geosynchronous satellite system" with regional coverage and minimal signal delay.

Two Global Observer aircraft, each flying for up to a week at a time, could alternate coverage over any area on the earth, providing a seamless, persistent platform for high-value missions such as communications relay, remote sensing, long-term surveillance and border patrol, officials said.

Offering greater flexibility than a satellite and significantly longer duration than conventional manned and unmanned aircraft, AV officials said Global Observer is designed to provide critical new capabilities in a reliable and more affordable manner while consuming no fossil fuels and releasing no carbon emissions.

(Courtesy of 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs)

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