Comment on an E-mail


     Everyone is familiar with those e-mails that seem to make the rounds all over the Internet.  I received one of them from two different people asking me to verify whether or not it was true, and I thought I’d post the e-mail and my response here on my Blog for future reference.

 Global Hawk

This is a photo of the Global Hawk UAV that returned from the war zone recently under its own power. (Iraq to Edwards AFB in CA) – Not transported via C5 or C17….. Notice the mission paintings on the fuselage. It’s actually over 250 missions…. (and I would suppose 25 air medals). That’s a long way for a remotely-piloted aircraft. Think of the technology (and the required quality of the data link to fly it remotely). Not only that but the pilot controlled it from a nice warm control panel at Edwards AFB. Really long legs- can stay up for almost 2 days at altitudes above 60k.

The Global Hawk was controlled via satellite; it flew missions during OT&E that went from Edwards AFB to upper Alaska and back non-stop. Basically, they come into the fight at a high mach # in mil thrust, fire their AMRAAMS, and no one ever sees them or paints with radar. There is practically no radio chatter because all the guys in the flight are tied together electronically, and can see who is targeting who, and they have AWACS direct input and 360 situational awareness from that and other sensors. The aggressors had a morale problem before it was all over. It is to air superiority what the jet engine was to aviation.

It can taxi, take off, fly a mission, return, land and taxi on it’s own. No blackouts, no fatigue, no relief tubes, no ejection seats, and best of all, no dead pilots, no POWs.? Pretty cool!

My response is below: 

    It is an RQ-4A Global Hawk.  That’s about all the well-meaning author got right in this e-mail. 
    They’re stationed at Beale AFB, CA; not Edwards.  This one is deployed.  I can tell you where I think it is, but I probably ought not.
    Global Hawk is basically a supplement for the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.  It is not remote controlled, but it isn’t manned, either.  Rather, the ‘pilot’ programs the mission on the ground, loads the mission data on the ground; the aircraft then takes off completely on its own, flies its mission, returns to base, and lands.  It’s remarkable enough as it is that it can do that.  From takeoff to landing, no one touches it at all.  On the other hand, if the bad guys are shooting at it, they get as many free shots at the sitting duck as they can possibly take.  It really does fly high enough that the only things that could realistically intercept it would be MiG-25, MiG-31, possibly Su-27 and F-15; SA-2, SA-10, SA-12, SA-20, or Patriot could also reach up and touch it.  And remember, it flies what it was programmed to fly.  The Global Hawk can’t detect anything shooting at it and get out of the way or turn around.  The ‘pilot’ can upload a change of mission, but that’s not the same as flying it. 
    Global Hawk cannot — REPEAT — cannot exceed the speed of sound, carry air to air ordnance, or shoot down other aircraft.  It takes great pictures, but that’s all it does.  Here’s the fact sheet on Global Hawk from Air Force Link: 
    The RQ-1 Predator is the remotely piloted UAV.  It doesn’t fly very high.  There are two people at a console for it at all times, one flies the vehicle, the other operates the sensor package.  The MQ-1 Predator is the same as the RQ-1 except the MQ-1 can carry up to two Hellfire anti-tank missiles.  Again, it’s another pretty incredible system.  Here’s the link for Predator. 
    There will be a newer version of Predator coming up in a year or so, it will be the MQ-9 Reaper.  Here’s the link for the Reaper factsheet.  Reaper looks just like Predator, but Reaper is about twice the size.
    In any case, Predator does not have a radar, it too only has a camera (albeit a very good one).  It has no chance against enemy air defenses whatsoever, and requires a completely permissive air environment (Read:  Me and my fighter pilot buddies must sweep the skies clean of enemy aircraft and surface-to-air missiles for this critter to have a chance to do its work). 
    The story about the aircraft in Alaska flying Mach schnell and shooting AMRAAMs from long ranges and still going undetected was actually the Air Force’s newest fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor.  Here’s the link.  Here’s a bit of the RED FLAG – ALASKA story at  A better article about the RED FLAG – ALASKA exercise is in the Feb issue of Air Force Magazine.  


     I hope this answers some questions about this particular e-mail!

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One Response to Comment on an E-mail

  1. Jim says:

    Ha! I called shenanigans on that breathless urban legend wannabe post before I even got through it.

    Wow, I thought, I WISH we had something like that, but like everything else, the real magic happens when a soldier/sailor/airman/marine uses their wetware accomplish a great task. As a fan of Patton, I’ll pull this one out:

    “It’s the unconquerable soul of man and not the nature of the weapon he uses, that ensures victory.”
    –Gen George S. Patton

    Although, as fantasies go, that guy’s skynet drone would be pretty cool. haha.

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