Global Hawk takes northern route, improves efficiency

  • Published
  • By Randy Roughton
  • Defense Media Activity - San Antonio
Staff Sgt. Ryan Conversi's eyes remain focused on a pair of industrial-strength laptop computers as the time approaches for the next launch of an RQ-4 Global Hawk on the Beale Air Force Base flightline.

One of the computers is a vehicle test controller and the other contains Sergeant Conversi's technical orders. Both help the 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief communicate with the operator as he prepares for the Global Hawk's next journey over Canada on the way to a forward operating location in Southwest Asia.

Since April, when the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron's Global Hawks began flying the northern route, maintainers have noticed an ability to get the aircraft serviced and back into the forward operation location more efficiently. The aircraft previously flew from Beale AFB to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., before continuing the route to Southwest Asia. The aircraft must return to Beale AFB for critical routine maintenance, so the new route decreases the time required to transport aircraft between the two locations.

"We're constantly swapping aircraft out for maintenance to provide the forward operators with fresh aircraft," said Capt. Gary Toroni, the 12th Operations Support Squadron flight commander. "The ability to fly through Canada also affords us the opportunity to not only have the aircraft out there in a short time period, but also bring them back so we can do service and maintenance and be able to get them forward-deployed."

The 12th AMU is the first of its kind to provide maintenance and generation capabilities for the remotely piloted aircraft. Sergeant Conversi and Staff Sgt. William Murray, a 12th AMU avionics specialist, have both noticed a decrease in manpower needed for maintenance in the first month the Global Hawk has flown the new route. The aircraft usually can be prepped within three hours after landing on the Beale AFB flightline.

"As far as flying over Canada to the (area of responsibility) goes, it just reduces our timetable for getting the jets transferred over there," said Master Sgt. Edwin Sims, the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. "It's basically more efficient. Otherwise, we have to go to a staging point in between and have people set up there before the aircraft even gets there. Now, we prep it to go here and it flies all the way. Now all we have to worry about are the jets coming back, so it cuts down on our maintenance."

The Global Hawk's first flight on the northern route to Southwest Asia in April marked its first over Canada on a non-training mission. The new route has increased the Global Hawk's efficiency by about 50 percent, Captain Toroni said.

"Efficiency relates to effectiveness, so if we're able to get the aircraft operating without the variable of sending it to the East Coast before we forward deploy it, we've got manpower back here to do other missions, whether they are for Haiti relief or continental United States missions," he said.

The Global Hawks are assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing from Beale AFB and provide a broad spectrum of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection capability to support joint combatant forces in real-time peacetime, contingency and wartime operations.