Unmanned airplane takes off on attempt to cross Pacific | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Unmanned airplane takes off on attempt to cross Pacific

The Associated Press

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) – A robotic airplane took off before dawn Sunday in an attempt to fly from California to Australia to become the first drone to cross the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Air Force’s Global Hawk took to the air at 4:48 a.m, said spokesman John Haire. It was expected to land 22 1/2 hours and 8,600 miles later at a Royal Australian Air Force Base outside Adelaide, he said.

The spy plane will fly at 65,000 feet, well above other air traffic and the nasty weather that plagues the Pacific. Ground crews in Australia will monitor the flight but not control it as the plane follows a preprogrammed route.

The awkward-looking plane resembles a killer whale, thanks to a bulbous nose that hides an antenna four feet in diameter.

On takeoff, the Global Hawk’s mammoth wings – longer than a Boeing 737’s – droop under 15,000 pounds of fuel that accounts for 60 percent of the aircraft’s weight. The plane’s distinctive V-shaped tail frames the Rolls-Royce engine that straddles its fuselage.

If the plane’s trans-Pacific flight is successful, it will land late on Tuesday in Australia, where it will take part in combined military exercises over the following six weeks.

Australia is interested in using the Global Hawk to patrol its northern coast. Backers of the reconnaissance plane say it is perfect for the task, since it can fly at high altitudes for extended periods of time, all while using its high-powered cameras to image the ground and ocean below.

Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Ryan Aero Center designed the plane to fly as far as 1,400 miles from its base, crisscross a target for 24 hours to acquire radar, infrared and black-and-white images, and then return home.

The Air Force has named the plane the ”Southern Cross II” to honor the first aircraft to fly from the United States to Australia. The original Southern Cross, a three-engine Fokker that departed from Oakland, Calif., and its crew made the trip in several legs in 1928.

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