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Notes from the Field

First Test Flight

April 6th, 2010 by Mike Carlowicz

From GloPac co-mission scientist Paul Newman:

It was a tense moment on Friday morning, April 2.  The Global Hawk was poised on the end of the runway, with the crew chief behind it in a pick-up truck (“the trapper” is the runway-based eyes and ears for the crew in the control room).  Pilots, managers, and scientists sat in the darkened Global Hawk Operations Center (GHOC), intently staring at their computer screens and the LCD monitors.

At 6:56 AM Pacific, the pilots commanded the takeoff from their computer and we watched the Global Hawk begin to accelerate down the runway.  We listened over our head-sets as the trapper followed the jet and called out it’s speed. We watched the screen as the plane gently lifted off the runway and soared towards the stratosphere. As the Global Hawk lifted off, the scientists in the GHOC’s payload operations room broke into applause.

Why did we applaud? Two reasons.  First, everyone was happy that we were flying after three weeks of hard work installing our instruments and solving a myriad of hardware and software problems.

Second, and more importantly, it was applause for the engineers, managers, and crew of the Global Hawk.  Chris Naftel and his Dryden team have made the Global Hawk a reality for science.

Global Hawk landing at Dryden

This was an historic occasion — the first test flight of the Global Hawk carrying a science payload.  This flight ushers in a new era that combines state-of-the-art aircraft hardware and science instruments with software — a hybrid of satellites and aircraft for future science.  I imagine that in the future there will be fleets of these aircraft probing our atmosphere and providing information for weather forecasting, hurricane reconnaissance, ozone depletion, and climate change.