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Global Hawk, U-2 and P-3 aircraft capture images of wildfires

  • Published
Throughout the week Air Forces Northern tasked RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2 mapping aircraft from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and a Navy P-3 aircraft flying out of Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., to provide still photos and video to firefighting commanders and civil authorities on the ground. 

Military technology plays an important role in our nation's defense, but according to officials at Air Forces Northern, this Global Hawk firefighting mission was a first. Thursday night's flight marks the first time the Global Hawk has been flown in the United States for a Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission. 

"It's a different tool for a different fight," said Maj. Gen. Hank Morrow, AFNORTH commander, "but this kind of innovation and teamwork is vital to our success. Many partners combined to make this a success, but without the support from the Federal Aviation Administration, this vital asset would have been grounded." 

Designed as a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial mapping system; Global Hawk delivers high resolution, near real-time images. Global Hawk is able to capture images of large geographical areas and downlink those images to commanders and civil authorities in the field. 

In addition to the Global Hawk, U-2 and P-3, a National Guard RC-26 and a UH-58D helicopter are available if needed to gather additional imagery. 

All of the images and videos these aircraft are capturing have proven useful to California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention decision makers on the ground by providing a better overall picture of the fires with detailed images. 

"Unmanned aircraft like Global Hawk provide extremely detailed infrared images the National Interagency Fire Center to help better coordinate firefighting efforts," General Morrow said. "We are working diligently with our interagency partners to put these fires out." 

The Global Hawk has a maximum altitude of 65,000 feet, a range of 14,000 nautical miles and can stay airborne for 42 hours. Sensors on Global Hawk include the electro-optical and third-generation infrared sensor system and the synthetic aperture radar. 

The U-2, traditionally associated with data collection, can transmit images in "near real-time" anywhere in the world. Using its air-to-ground or air-to-satellite data links, it's rapidly providing critical information to firefighting officials. The aircraft's unique array of sensors and communications technology make it well suited for complex firefighting operations. 

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing is responsible for providing national and theater command authorities with timely, reliable, high-quality, high-altitude mapping products. More than 3,000 personnel at Beale AFB and multiple overseas locations comprise the wing. 

"The fact we are able to use systems like Global Hawk, U-2 and P-3 aircraft to assist firefighters on the ground in California underscores our commitment to the safety and security of America," General Morrow said. 

For more information contact AFNORTH Public Affairs at 850-283-8657.