Global Hawk, U-2 capture essential wildfires images

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Throughout the week Air Forces Northern tasked specialized aircraft to provide firefighting commanders and civil authorities with photos and video of Southern California wildfires.

Among the aircraft were the RQ-4 Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and U-2 Dragon Lady from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft flying out of Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.

According to Air Forces Northern officials, this Global Hawk firefighting mission marks the first time the aircraft has been used domestically to support civil authorities.

"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.

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 to 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 can rapidly provide critical information to firefighting officials. The aircraft's unique array of sensors and communications technology make it well suited for complex firefighting operations.

"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.

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