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Local Company’s Drone Helping In Quake Relief

A San Diego company is playing a unique role in the relief efforts following Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Northrop Grumman, maker of the unmanned aircraft systems used by the U.S. military, has begun to run surveillance and reconnaissance missions with U.S. and Japanese officials to aid in relief efforts.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk sits on the runway before beginning a nighttime mission. ...
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Above: An RQ-4 Global Hawk sits on the runway before beginning a nighttime mission. The aircraft is unmanned, and is used to capture imagery from high altitudes. (Courtesy photo/John Schwab)

At the request of the Japanese government, RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft based at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, are gathering images from altitudes as high as 60,000 feet to assess earthquake and tsunami damage to towns, roads and industrial facilities.

Images gathered by the unmanned aircraft are being used to give real-time information to rescue responders on the ground. Such images are necessary to find usable points of entry at seaports, and landing spots for rescue aircraft and personnel.

"The Global Hawk is (ideal) to aid in disaster relief," said Gen. Gary North, pacific Air Force commander. "It directly complements ongoing efforts in the region and represents how advanced technology can provide crucial and timely support to ... search, recovery and disaster relief efforts."

The Global Hawk drone can fly high-altitude missions for up to 35 hours, allowing it to photograph an area the size of Illinois during a single mission.

A spokesperson for Northrop Grumman told KPBS it always stands ready to support relief efforts conducted by the Air Force and Navy.

In the past, the Global Hawk has been used in relief efforts following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 as well as during California's 2007 wildfires.

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