Air Force suspends use of pilotless spy plane

By Jason Williams, The Associated Press
Saturday July 13, 2002

SAN DIEGO — Air Force officials have grounded a San Diego-designed spy plane pending an investigation into this week’s crash of one such unmanned aircraft in Pakistan. 

The Global Hawk, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, will undergo no further operations testing at Edwards Air Force Base until more can be learned about what caused Wednesday’s crash, according to an Air Force statement issued Friday to the defense contractor. 

Pentagon officials have attributed the crash to engine failure. The U.S. Central Command confirmed that the craft was not brought down by hostile fire. 

The Pentagon decided to rush the Global Hawk into use following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks even though normal developmental tests had not been completed. Only about a half-dozen of the aircraft were made available. Wednesday’s crash was the second loss of a Global Hawk: The first occurred in late December near Afghanistan. 

The 44-foot-long aircraft, with a wingspan of 116 feet, is expected to replace the Air Force’s U-2 spy plane, which has been in use for 50 years.