U.S. to use giant drone to test hypersonic test vehicles and long-range weapons

Now, in a bid to further its hypersonic missile program, the Department of Defense Test Resource Management Center (TRMC) has sought access to Northrop Grumman’s giant drone, RQ-4 RangeHawk.

What is the RQ-4 RangeHawk?

The RQ-4 is popularly known by the moniker GlobalHawk as used by the U.S. Air Force as a high-altitude long endurance (HALE) platform. It is a remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft that first took flight in 1998 and has been adapted for use by the U.S. Navy as well.

The initial design was modified to build the RQ-4B drone with a wingspan of 130.9 feet (39.9 m) and a length of 47.7 feet (14.5 m). In comparison, the MQ-9 Reaper has a wingspan of 66 feet (20 m), almost half the size.

The RQ-4 is powered by a single Rolls-Royce F-137 turbofan engine that generates 7,600 lbf (34 kN) of thrust and delivers a range of 14,200 miles (22,800 km) and endurance of 34 hours.

Propelling hypersonic missile development

After years of service, the U.S. Air Force has decided to retire its GlobalHawks by 2027, The Drive reported last year. Northrop Grumman, in its press release, stated that Block 20 and 30 RQ-4B Global Hawk aircraft were now being transferred to SkyRange, TRMC’s unmanned, HALE mobile test system to be reconfigured into RangeHawks.

During the reconfiguration, the aircraft will be equipped with advanced payloads to support the testing of hypersonic vehicles and other long-range weapons. The company claims that the “over-the-horizon altitude, endurance and flexibility” offered by the RangeHawks will be critical in collecting telemetry and other data for the hypersonic vehicles.

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