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WARPLANE: A Century of Military Aviation Advances
Parts One and Two: Wednesday, November 8th, 9-11pm   |   Parts Three and Four: Wednesday, November 15, 9-11pm

The Warplanes That Changed The World

General Atomics RQ-1/RQ9 Predator
Type: Multi-Role UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)
Crew: none (one ground operator)
Length: 26 feet 8 inches
Wingspan: 41 feet 8 inches
Range: 454 miles
Maximum Speed: 135 mph
Ceiling: 25,000 feet
Armament: Can carry two Hellfire air-to-ground missiles or Stinger anti-aircraft missiles
Dates in Service: 1995-Present

Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk
Type: Strategic Reconnaissance UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)
Crew: None
Length: 44 feet 5 inches
Wingspan: 116 feet 2 inches
Endurance: 34 hours
Maximum Speed: roughly 400 mph
Ceiling: 65,000 feet
Armament: None
Dates in Service: 2001-present

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Although two very different planes designed for very different purposes, the Predator and Global Hawk share one noteworthy feature -- neither carries a pilot.

"Predator" is actually a name that refers to a complete system, not just a plane. The aircraft component of the system is a MALE (Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance) UAV (Umanned Aerial Vehicle) that is intended for battlefield surveillance, and can "loiter" over a combat area for hours at a time. It has also been modified to carry two Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, and the CIA has used it in a number of attacks against "high-value" terrorist targets. The plane is controlled by the rest of the Predator system -- a ground operator using a satellite link. During their extensive use In Afghanistan and Iraq, Predators in the Middle East are actually flown by pilots stationed at two USAF bases in Nevada.

In contrast to the Predator, the Global Hawk is a spiritual successor to the U-2 -- a very large, long-range, high-flying strategic reconnaissance aircraft packed with sophisticated sensors. Global Hawk is designed to keep tabs on thousands of miles of ground activity, sending data back to earth via satellite link. And, unlike the Predator, which is operated by remote control, the Global Hawk is almost entirely autonomous, navigating with the Global Positioning System (GPS) and able to fly pre-programmed missions without any human involvement.

Global Hawks are operated by both the Air Force and the Navy (NASA plans to use them as well). A prototype of Global Hawk was used during the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan, and the aircraft featured prominently in the invasion of Iraq as well -- where they suffered heavy losses to accidents, but proved valuable for identifying targets even during heavy sandstorms. In April 2003, the Global Hawk became the first unmanned airplane authorized by the FAA to travel in civilian airspace.

Together, these two very different aircraft represent the future of military aviation.