The Northrop Grumman (formerly Ryan Aeronautical) RQ-4 Global Hawk (known as Tier II during development) is an Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) used by the United States Air Force and Navy as a surveillance aircraft. A variant, the Euro Hawk, is also being developed for the German Luftwaffe.
In role and design, the Global Hawk is similar to the Lockheed U-2, the venerable 1950s spy plane. It is a theater commander's asset to both provide a broad overview and systematically target surveillance shortfalls. The Global Hawk air vehicle is able to provide high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)—that can penetrate cloud-cover and sandstorms—and Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) imagery at long range with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) of terrain a day.
Global Hawk ATCD prototypes have been used in the War in Afghanistan and in the Iraq War. While their data-collection capabilities have been praised, the aircraft did suffer a high number of accidents, with two of the aircraft, more than one quarter of the aircraft used in the wars, being lost. According to Australian press reports, the crashes were due to "technical failures or poor maintenance", with a failure rate per hour flown over 100 times higher than the F-16 fighters flown in the same wars. The manufacturer stated that it was unfair to compare the failure rates of a mature design to that of a prototype plane, and pointed to a lack of trained maintenance staff and spare parts.
On March 21, 2001, aircraft number 982003, the third ACTD aircraft produced, set an official world endurance record for UAVs, at 30 hours, 24 minutes and 1 second, flying from Edwards. During the same flight, it set an absolute altitude record of 19,928 meters (65,380.6 ft), which was later broken by the NASA Helios Prototype (although the absolute record was broken, the Global Hawk's record still stands in its FAI class category).
On April 24, 2001 a Global Hawk flew non-stop from Edwards in the US to RAAF Base Edinburgh in Australia, making history by being the first pilotless aircraft to cross the Pacific Ocean. The flight took 22 hours, and set a world record for absolute distance flown by a UAV, 13,219.86 kilometers (8,214.44 mi).
The RQ-4B is an improved version with increased payload, wingspan increased to 130.9 ft (39.8m) and length increased to 47.7 ft (14.5m), due to the increased size and payload the range is reduced to 8,700 nm. (Source: Wikipedia)
Platz have released a brand new 1:72 kit of the RQ-4B. The kit arrives in an attractive conventional box with the sprues bagged for protection. With no cockpit to worry about, this is essentially quite a simple model and comprises:
36 x grey styrene parts
1 x metal screw
Decals for 5 x colour schemes
The moulding is excellent with no traces of flash or sink marks, and any light ejector pin marks are well out of harm's way. There are some faint mould lines here and there, indicating a multi-part mould to capture the complex curves of the original, but these are easily sanded off. Surface detail comprises neatly engraved panel lines and fasteners.
A test fit is encouraging, although the fuselage has a tendency to flex until its base is added and provides solidity. The wings are moulded with drop-in panels on the underside, allowing the trailing edges to be kept nice and sharp. I found the wings a very tight fit into the slots in the fuselage, so a little sanding was needed. A nice touch to keep the long wings from drooping is a screw-down plate inside the fuselage that locks their locating tabs firmly in place.
We often say a kit looks like a good "weekend build", so with the RQ-4B having so few parts I couldn't resist building it with a view to a nice quick project. Little did I know what a self-inflicted epic lay ahead!
Making a start - I did my usual thing and ignored the instructions! These are Japanese-only, but clearly illustrated and the construction is easy to follow, but they suggest installing the engine parts before joining the fuselage halves. That's fine, but it'll make cleaning up the joints around the exhaust awkward. A little simple surgery to modify the mounting locators meant the engine could be installed later.
With the fuselage halves joined, I added part B4, the upper tail (for what of a better description). This had some mould marks to clean off and was also a bit of a loose fit. Photos of the full-size machine show a very smooth finish around the tail, so I spent a while filling and sanding the joints.
Turning to the wings, the fit was good, but I found the lower surface benefited from a little extra support at the wing root to avoid the chance of a step.
At this point, disaster struck - I loaded the nose with weights and flooded it with PVA before adding the fuselage bottom to seal everything in. Would it dry? Not a chance! Every time I moved the model, the nose-weights shifted and gunge poured out! How does the saying go? - "Act in haste, repent at leisure...". So much for my almost-weekend build!
After well over a week, I gave up and washed the worst of the remaining goo out. Amazingly, after all that, the nose-weights had actually stayed in place! So, it was time to get building again...
I restored the panel lines around the fuselage with the excellent RB Productions Scribe-R
(fast becoming one of my all-time favourite indispensable tools), and brushed some thick old enamel paint over the seams to be sure they're really smooth.
With the wings finally attached I really began to understand the sheer size of the RQ-4! Although the kit is 1:72 it completely dwarfs a 1:48 Bf 109! Somehow, for me at least, talk of a reconnaissance drone conjured up images of an overgrown r/c model aircraft, but this beast has a wingspan greater than a B-24 Liberator!
Painting & Decals
The kit comes with a fine set of Cartograf decals for a choice RQ-4B users and potential operators:
USAF, NASA, the Luftwaffe and Taiwan.
As usual from this decal producer, the registration is perfect and the items are thin and glossy with minimal carrier film.
The colour schemes are clearly illustrated, but accompanied by solely Japanese text. While it's easy to pick out the FS paint numbers, some of the other instructions defeated me. For instance, the decals include a complete alternative set of numerals to make up any serial number you desire - and there is an instruction pointing to the tail in some of the diagrams where a plain series of "0"s is shown.
I was planning to go for the kit's attractive NASA option, but checking the web all I could find were shots of earlier RQ-4 aircraft in NASA markings, which have different style undercarriage and fairings, and a shorter wing. Similarly, the shots I found of a mock-up of the Luftwaffe version also showed the old-style twin-mainwheel undercarriage, plus different sensors on the side of the nose.
So, I played on the safer side and went for a USAF scheme with glossy white upper surfaces to the wings and a semi-matt Gunship Gray on the rest of the airframe. I used LifeColor acrylic for a really pure white, and found a pot of WEM Colourcoats matched to FS 26118 (actually Grigio Azzuro Scuro from their WW2 Italian range).
The decals went on very well after a coat of Klear, snuggling down nicely into the engraved detail. With everything dry, I misted a light coat of Windsor and Newton Galeria matt varnish over the grey areas to give a silky sheen.
Platz's RQ-4B is a very nice kit, and certainly builds into an impressive model that stands out amongst everything else on the shelf on account of its unusual looks and remarkable size. It's a very simple build and is suitable for all modellers from beginners upwards. Recommended for anyone looking for something a little bit "different".
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