Move Over, U2 – Here Comes the Global Hawk

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Cost overruns and headaches over proper operation of parts in the aviation industry (the likes of which have plagued Boeing for what seems like ages) have now focused on spy planes from the US military.

The New York Times reported recently that the Air Force is confident in replacing its classic U-2 spy plane which has solidly performed during the cold war and into the age of terrorism with the Global Hawk. The Navy also plans to build a maritime version of the plane.

Here’s the U-2 in its former glory:

Source: strategic-air-command.com

And for comparison, the Global Hawk (equipped with state-of-the-art intelligence-gathering sensors, remotely operated, and able to fly at 60,000 feet and for as long as 24 hours, twice as long as the U-2):

Source: NYT

Problem is, it’s already costing way too much — $12 billion, double what it was in 2001 and in tests, the Northrop Grumman-made “parts failed frequently, and the equipment for intercepting telephone and radio conversations, a vital requirement for replacing the U-2, had trouble pinpointing the source of the calls. Only five will be made this year.

Many aerospace defense contractors, including Northrop and General Dynamics, are feeling the pinch from federal defense budget cuts and uncertainty in the future.

Nonetheless, once everything is sorted out, both military officials and the folks at Northrop feel the Global Hawk will ultimately do what the U-2 did best, and better.

As Northrop development director and former pilot Edward Walby so poignantly put it in the Times article:

“¦There’s a small group, when I’m at a U-2 reunion, that I have to remind about how we buried four U-2 pilots while I was with the program, Mr. Walby said, referring to crashes [due to decompression illness]. “I said: ËœIs it really worth it? Now that we have the technology to stop that from happening, is it worth it?’ 

–Taras Berezowsky

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