Hawk spots its prey

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Marie Brown
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs

Soaring through the atmosphere over 11 miles above the ground, a hawk glides nearly effortlessly, training its razor-sharp eyesight on its prey. The hawk circles and monitors the activity below, in anticipation of the right time to strike. However, instead of acting alone, this particular hawk sheds its solitary hunting techniques in favor of a team-focused approach to capturing its prey, relaying pertinent information at near real-time speeds to the rest of the hunting party.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. Global Hawk's mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations.

“We provide combat-ready safe and reliable aircraft for the warfighter,” said Capt. Daniel, Hawk Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in-charge. “Our job is to use our different sensor suites on the aircraft to find where the enemy is so the other aircraft can target and destroy them.”

Ensuring this aircraft is capable of flying requires the Airmen who maintain it to comply with certain Air Force regulations.

“I ensure that all jobs are complied with in accordance with technical orders,” said Staff Sgt. Paul, crew chief. “I make sure all jobs are done satisfactorily and review maintenance documentation.”

Each job is completed by Airmen of different specialties who work together to maintain this sophisticated high-flying aircraft.

“We have avionics troops, crew chiefs and ground communications,” said Paul. “We also work alongside our civilian counterpart field service representatives from Northrop Grumman. It is definitely a team effort.”

The primary mission varies in scope and type of work accomplished by each specialty.

“I inspect, launch, recover and perform heavy maintenance on the jet,” said Senior Airman Aaron, crew chief. “I am here to maintain and make sure the RQ-4 Global Hawk flies.”

As crew chiefs specifically on the RQ-4 Global Hawk, we kind of become jack of all trades, added Paul.

“We have the typical crew chief duties that you have on other airplanes, and we have also taken on other duties such as electronic and environmental duties that other airframes have dedicated [specialist] for,” said Paul. “We have also taken on the engine work, which other airframes have engine [specialist] and we handle all fuel responsibilities for the fuel system of this aircraft.”

Crew chiefs are one of many specialties tasked with maintaining and keeping this jet in the air.

“No one entity can do it by themselves,” said Paul currently deployed from Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and a native of Pittsburgh, Pa. “We rely on the knowledge and expertise of the avionics troops when it comes to the navigation systems of the aircraft."

Besides being an unmanned aircraft, the RQ-4 Global Hawk has other unique characteristics, compared to most other airframes.

“Most airframes are made out of metal and you can’t damage them as easily,” said Aaron, currently deployed from Grand Forks AFB, N.D., and a native of Tallassee, Ala. “Our airplane is really easy to break if you don’t know what you are doing or if you are not careful.”

Aaron added that the maintenance and support he gives to the RQ-4 Global Hawk is very important because without what he does, the jets won’t fly.

“I take pride in knowing the guys that I am training will have much more knowledge as a noncommissioned officer than I had,” said Paul. “They are going to far surpass the knowledge I have on this program.”

In mid-2014, Islamic State of Iraq Levant/Da’esh enjoyed a combat advantage over its adversaries and unconstrained freedom of movement. By massing tanks, APCs, artillery, and assault forces, ISIL was able to quickly overwhelm Iraqi security forces. Coalition airstrikes have thus far engaged approximately 1,500 targets in Iraq, destroying over 1,200 heavy weapons and armored vehicles. The Global Hawk has played an integral role throughout the operations.

“We were there for the first night on the initial sorties going in during OIR,” said Daniel. “We provided the air coverage that was needed for the first round of strike aircraft that was heading into the combat zone.”

The Airmen in Hawk AMU are driven to succeed every day, which shows in the work they do to keep the Global Hawk in the fight. Recently, an RQ-4 Global Hawk embarked on an Operation Inherent Resolve mission that marked the first time a Global Hawk reached the 10,000 flying-hour milestone.

“We are such a critical part of the mission,” said Daniel. “We cannot allow ourselves to fail. There are so few of the [RQ-4 Global Hawk] block 20 Battlefield Airborne Communication Node aircraft that without us, the warfighter can’t do the job they need to do. We try to make sure our [Airmen] understand how critical they are to the larger fight.”

(Editor’s note: Due to safety and security reasons, last names and unit designators were removed.)