Warplanes: Eurohawk Takes Flight

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July 7, 2010: The first German "Eurohawk RQ-4 UAV made its maiden flight last month. It will be delivered to Germany later this year, three years after five were ordered, for $215 million each (half that is development cost). All five will be delivered by 2017. These UAVs will replace the German Atlantic 1150 Electronic Reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft.

Seven years ago, an American  RQ-4A was equipped with electronic eavesdropping equipment and flown to Germany for demonstration flights. The Germans were impressed enough to design modifications for the Global Hawk, which will turn it into what they are calling Eurohawk.

Eurohawk can stay in the air for up to 30 hours at a time and would be cheaper to operate than a manned recon aircraft. Germany's Atlantic 1150 aircraft are being retired mainly because they are too old and expensive to maintain. The EuroHawk will use electronics supplied by European manufacturers. The U.S. Air Force is currently paying $130 million each for Global Hawks, with recon equipment included.

Germany will be getting the B version, which is about ten percent larger (wingspan of 42.3 meters/131 feet, and 15.5 meters/48 feet long) 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 B version is a lot more reliable. Early A models tended to fail and crash at the rate of once every thousand flight hours, mostly because of design flaws. 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 more than twice as much. Global Hawk can be equipped with much more powerful, and expensive, sensors, than other UAVs. 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. Germany is equipping Eurohawk with signals intelligence equipment, that collects electronic signals, and less imaging equipment.

 

 

 


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