MANCHING -- The plane comes down out of the sky and lands with little noise. The enthusiastic sounds emanating from the people watching the landing at Manching air strip in Bavaria are almost louder than the landing of the 15 ton “bird.” Bird is what staffers at the technical aircraft defense service here almost affectionately call their new hero, the Euro Hawk.
This reconnaissance drone signals a new era for Germany’s Federal Armed Forces -- the debut of the largest unmanned flying object in German airspace.
“It’s a milestone for us,” says Rüdiger Knöpfel, a project manager at the Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement, for which this represents nearly 10 years of planning. At 15 meters long, and a wingspan of 40 meters the Euro Hawk by far outstrips other systems of this type.
The “hawk” can fly at speeds up to 600 km per hour, stay airborne for up to 30 hours, and fly 23,000 km -- or as far as New Zealand. It can easily reach Afghanistan, where the German Armed Forces will soon be reducing the number of personnel.
Euro Hawk already passed one important test: on July 21, pilots in Germany and the United States flew it 10,000 km from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Upper Bavaria – and after 24 hours flying time it appeared in the skies over Manching.
The grey drone is a massive data collector. From an altitude of 20,000 meters – which is to say, well above the altitude at which civil aircraft fly – the Euro Hawk can listen in on even the most softly whispered radio message, not to mention cell phone conversations, and intercept text messages. It can also record radio and TV broadcasts and register enemy missiles and radar stations.
Pilots trained in the United States
The captured electromagnetic information can be sent via three different radio links and reach earth in Nienburg, Lower Saxony in real time. The Electronic Warfare Battalion 912 stationed there conducts data analysis. Up to seven telecommunications specialists help the deployed troops to analyze data concerning their own operations and protect against possible threats.
In the pilot phase, the workspace of the analysis unit is housed in a container in a high security tract at Manching air strip. But it’s slated to remain mobile so that it can be transported to wherever it’s needed.
The German Armed Forces have so far trained 11 pilots. Long flying times mean that several have to share a shift. The pilots and weapons systems officers were trained in the United States on the Northrop Grumman-produced Global Hawk, which provided the basic model for the Euro Hawk.
Euro Hawk “9901” arrived in Manching “naked.” Technicians from Cassidian then equipped it with German sensors and intelligence technology.
The Euro Hawk fills a gap. The previous model used by Germany was the NATO Breguet Atlantic that has been out of service for more than a year. Countries routinely exchange reconnaissance information – only for a while now, Germany hasn’t had any to provide.
Euro Hawk is supposed to change that. In the summer of 2012 the plane will be turned over to the “Immelmann” Reconnaissance Squadron 51 in Jagel, Schleswig-Holstein. The first series models should be ready in 2015 at the earliest. Presently, the Euro Hawk – a so-called test carrier – only has a temporary traffic permit and every time it takes off or lands air space has to be cleared.
Both military and civilian Armed Forces staffers treat the Euro Hawk as carefully as they might a raw egg. Visitors to the hawk’s space are even asked to take off their rings before they touch the bird.
Read original article in German