The RQ-4 Global Hawk made its first operational flight out of Misawa Air Base, Japan, June 6.
The flight marked two milestones: the first time an RQ-4 mission has flown out of Japan, and the first operational mission flown out of a jointly-used civilian and military airfield.
According to detachment officials, combining and coordinating civilian Japanese airline traffic with military entities typically isn’t done. “It’s important because it proves that remotely piloted aircraft and manned aircraft can operate on the same airfield together despite their variety of missions or purpose.”
The Global Hawk’s ability to fly in adverse weather conditions was spotlighted, taking off in minimum runway visibility and maximum cloud coverage.
In fact, all prior scheduled flights were canceled during that day due to severe inclement weather, letting the Global Hawk roam the skies uninhibited.
“Weather conditions like we experienced June 6 would have normally canceled all airfield flying,” said MSgt. Michael Adcock, the 35th Operations Support Squadron weather flight chief. “Heavy fog conditions were present above the airfield which would significantly impact flying, but the Global Hawk successfully operated in these adverse conditions.”
With the 35th Fighter Wing’s weather flight providing expert assistance to the Global Hawk team, the RQ-4 is able to takeoff efficiently, even in the worst weather.
“We have members of the weather flight work with us in person to advise us with real-time forecasts and weather patterns,” said the Detachment 1 commander. “They’re absolutely critical to our mission.”
The RQ-4 Global Hawk uses technology like radio altimeters and global positioning satellites, allowing the RPA to “sense” when it’s aligned with the runway and when to engage its brakes when landing.
“That’s the advantage of the RQ-4′s automated taking off and landing; the weather visibility isn’t really necessary,” said the Director of Operations for Detachment 1. “We don’t need to see in order to land or takeoff.”
Extensive coordination was made between the Global Hawk team and the Japanese government prior to coming to Misawa. Agreements with the Japanese Air Self Defense Force’s air traffic control team at Misawa were ironed out, allowing the RQ-4 to fly within the local airspace.
“There was a lot of planning that went into the early agreement stages,” said the director of operations. “Once we came to an understanding and the letters of agreement were in place, going out and flying became a simple matter.”
With the RQ-4 Global Hawk poised to stay at Misawa throughout the summer season, future missions and exercises are expected, further strengthening the relationship between the U.S. military and Japan.
“With our team operating here for the foreseeable future, it’s going to allow for positive interoperability with the JASDF,” said the Detachment 1 commander. “I think that’s a good step in the right direction for a long term partnership.”