NASA’s Global Hawk Drone Makes First Science Flight

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The inaugural science flight of an unpiloted Global Hawk drone outfitted with Earth science instruments was conducted April 7 over the Pacific Ocean. The flight was the first of five planned for April as part of NASA and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Hawk Pacific, or GloPac, mission to study the atmosphere over the Pacific and Arctic oceans.

Equipped with 11 science instruments, the Global Hawk flew approximately 8,300 kilometers along a flight path that took it to 150.3 degrees west longitude and 54.6 degrees north latitude, just south of Alaska’s Kodiak Island, NASA said in an April 8 press release. The aircraft flew as high as 18,500 meters during the 14-hour flight.

“The Global Hawk is a revolutionary aircraft for science because of its enormous range and endurance,” Paul Newman, the co-mission scientist for GloPac and an atmospheric scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. “No other platform provides the range and time to sample rapidly evolving atmospheric phenomena. This mission is our first opportunity to demonstrate the unique capabilities of this plane, while gathering atmospheric data in a region that is poorly sampled.”

Newman and other GloPac researchers plan to directly measure and sample greenhouse gases, ozone-depleting substances, aerosols and constituents of air quality in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.