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Soaring Dragon Chases Global Hawk
by James Dunnigan
November 4, 2008

Discussion Board on this DLS topic

China is developing a new UAV [VIDEO], similar to the U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk. The Chinese aircraft is the Xianglong (Soaring Dragon). It is about half the size of the Global Hawk, at 7.5 tons, with a 45 foot wingspan and a .65 ton payload. Max altitude will be 57,000 feet and range will be 7,000 kilometers. It has a faster cruising speed (750 kilometers an hour) than the RQ-4.

The U.S. Air Force is currently buying the B version of the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs, at a cost of $58 million each. This version is larger (wingspan is 15 feet larger, at 131 feet, and it's four feet longer at 48 feet) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of equipment. To support that, there's a new generator that produces 150 percent more electrical power. The RQ-4 has a range of over 22,000 kilometers and a cruising speed of 650 kilometers an hour.

The first three RQ-4Bs entered service in 2006. At 13 tons, the Global Hawk is the size of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145), but costs nearly twice as much. Global Hawk can be equipped with much more powerful, and expensive, sensors. These more the double the cost of the aircraft. These "spy satellite quality" sensors (especially AESA radar) are usually worth the expense, because they enable the UAV, flying at over 60,000 feet, to get a sharp picture of all the territory it can see from that altitude. The B version is supposed to be a lot more reliable. Early A models tended to fail and crash at the rate of once every thousand flight hours.

The Chinese Xianglong is intended for maritime patrol, as is a U.S. Navy model of the RQ-4. The Xianglong recently conducted taxi-tests, which was the first time it was shown to the public. The shorter range of this UAV is apparently attributable to the lower capabilities of the Chinese aircraft engine industry. Flight testing will begin next year, and the Xianglong may enter limited service in 2-3 years.


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