Friday, September 13, 2013

100K & Going: Airmen at Grand Forks AFB help reach Global Hawk flying milestone

By Staff Sgt. Luis Loza Gutierrez,  319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Although the days of the bombers and tankers are long gone, Airmen at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., are still finding ways to make Air Force history thanks to the Global Hawk mission.

The Northrop Grumman Corporation recently announced its high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft systems achieved 100,000 flight hours Sept. 5.

News of the milestone was well-received by the leadership and members of the 69th Reconnaissance Group, the unit at Grand Forks AFB directly in charge of conducting Global Hawk missions.

"This milestone is something in which those of us involved in the Global Hawk mission take great pride," said Col. Lawrence Spinetta, 69th RG commander.

According to Northrup Grumman, approximately 88 percent of the 100,000 flight hours for this aircraft were logged by U.S. Air Force Global Hawks. Credit for the remaining flight hours was split among the NASA Global Hawks, the German EURO HAWK®, and the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator and Triton UAS.

The Global Hawk also has the safest record of any fighter, bomber or reconnaissance aircraft in the Air Force's active inventory.

According to statistics from the Air Force Safety Center, as of Sept. 3, 2013, the RQ-4 reached the 100,000-flight hour milestone without a fatality, a huge advantage of unmanned aircraft technology. Additionally, it enjoyed the fewest Class A and Class B mishaps.

"The safety record of the U.S. Air Force Global Hawk fleet is remarkable, especially given the fact that the system was rushed to combat and flew 75 percent of its first 100,000 hours supporting our warfighters in Afghanistan and elsewhere," Spinetta said. "These figures prove the reliability of unmanned aircraft technology. More importantly, it's testament to the professionalism of our Airmen and the pride they take in accomplishing our mission."

The Global Hawk is aptly named. Every day, RQ-4s circle the globe, providing critical strategic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to six combatant commands.

"The jet's long endurance is a significant combat force multiplier," Spinetta said.

The RQ-4, which can fly for upwards of 30 hours nonstop, has the ability to cover almost half the circumference of the world without refueling. That capability makes it a key contributor to the global vigilance, global reach, and global power of the U.S. Air Force.

Spinetta reflected on the recent aviation milestone and contemplated what it means for the history of the Air Force.

He told members of the 69th RG that their hard work is "the realization of an Air Force prophecy" by Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold. As the commanding general for the U.S. Army Air Force in 1945, Arnold said, "We have just won a war with a lot of heroes flying around in planes. The next war may be fought by airplanes with no men in them at all...Take everything you've learned about aviation in war, throw it out the window, and let's go to work on tomorrow's aviation."

Members of the 69th RG will receive patches from Northrop Grumman commemorating the milestone.

"Some people might refer to the patch as badge of honor, however, we know the real honor is knowing we are doing an excellent job protecting our warriors and our nation," Spinetta said. "That's exactly what we will continue to do."