Northrop Grumman announced Tuesday that the first Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft “performed beautifully” during its maiden test flight in November. This airframe, designated AF-18, flew for approximately two hours from the company’s production facility in Palmdale, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base during the Nov. 16 mission. AF-18 is the first of 15 Global Hawk Block 40 platforms in USAF’s current program of record. Unlike other Global Hawk configurations, Block 40 aircraft will carry the sophisticated MP-RTIP radar sensor that Northrop and Raytheon are developing for enhanced detection and tracking of moving ground targets from high overhead. The MP-RTIP sensor has completed tests on a surrogate aircraft and will be integrated into AF-18 for operational evaluation, according to the company. Global Hawk Block 40 aircraft will be based at Grand Forks AFB, N.D., starting next year.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.