Tomodachi’s Constant Vigil

Three RQ-4 remotely piloted aircraft checked off several firsts for the Global Hawk fleet as they maintained continuous imagery and monitoring of Japan’s severely damaged Fukushima nuclear facility at the height of contamination fears in Japan this spring, a Northrop Grumman official announced last week. Flying some six and a half hours from Andersen AFB, Guam, operators “swapped” aircraft on-station over Japan.”That was the first time the Air Force tried that and it worked—they were able to do that,” stated Bill Walker, Global Hawk business manager at Northrop during a briefing in Washington D.C., Aug. 16. Upon landing at Guam, Global Hawks also underwent nuclear decontamination—a first for any US remotely piloted aircraft. “The Air Force was able to launch sequential aircraft from Guam to have continuous coverage over Japan during that short time period where that was a threat with the nuclear power plant,” Walker said. “Each mission was able to cover [the entire disaster area] with very high-resolution imagery … many times during a single sortie,” updating the Japanese government continuously between March 26 and 29.