Last Summer’s Mysterious Global Hawk Crash

Does anyone know anything about the mysterious RQ-4 Global Hawk crash that occurred downrange — possibly just inside Pakistan close to the Afghan city of Jalalabad — last August?

The Air Force’s crash report database doesn’t allow you to open up the accident investigation board’s report on the incident which received surprisingly little media coverage. I say this because the Global Hawk is a big, jet-powered strategic intelligence plane, packed with some very advanced and expensive spy gear as opposed to the smaller and much cheaper low-flying MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper drones that crash on a regular basis.  The last time a Global Hawk was lost was 2002 (another might have crashed in 2009, according to these Air Force stats but I can’t find a record of it in the crash report database).

(The Northrop Grumman-issued picture above gives a good sense of just how big the plane is. It shows the jet at a the Seoul Air Show in South Korea.)

If a U-2, the plane that the Block 30 and 40 versions of the Global Hawk will eventually replace (when it gets over its teething issues and enters full production), went down, it would be a big deal.

I’ve asked the Air Force for comment but mum’s the word from the boys in blue so far.

The only thing resembling a news report that a quick Google search turned up is this crowdsourced article from Pakistan, and the article’s date doesn’t quite match up with the Aug. 20, 2011 crash date listed by the Air Force. The Google search did however, bring up plenty about the crash of China’s Global Hawk rival that happened two days later on Aug. 22., an incident that seems to have out-shined the RQ-4 crash.

Sound off in the comments if you’ve heard any more about the crash.


  • Michael

    I don’t know anything about the incident, but I just wanted to add that the front part of that aircraft looks kinda like the head from one of the aliens from those ‘Aliens’ films long ago.

    Kinda creepy.

    • McPosterdoor

      What a limp d comment. No one wants to hear your verbal diarrhea, happy Friday.

    • blight

      You’re trying too hard.

    • Brian Black

      It’s about time that the Roswell incident started delivering results.

    • Stark

      I like your comment, Michael, and I thought the same thing!


      that is creepy….i bet the targets of said drone haven’t seen the movie though

  • Black Owl

    I sincerely hope this was not another hacking incident. The Iranians wouldn’t have by any chance exported their knowledge on the RQ-170 and what they did to get to Pakistan?

    If our spec forces didn’t get it, then this means more tech for China… or Russia… or both.

    • IronV

      You presume there was a hacking event in the first place. And there is no evidence of that whatsoever…

  • jamesb

    I never knew how BIG the Global Hawk was…..

    Now I understand how the thing stays up for so long….

  • Lance

    That’s why we need manned recon planes they have better track not to crash and can give threw a pilot or black box why it crashed drones don’t.

    • @ptitz

      ye, only its not at all that easy for pilots to stay up in the air, awake for 36 hours straight. it is for drones tho.

    • Alan

      *I’d* rather not fly over Chinese border defenses or enemy missile fields, if it’s all the same to you. Let the drones do it.

      • SJE

        I’d rather not fly over the Chinese border either. But, if we HAVE to, and our COMLINK is vulnerable, what options do we have? We need to keep manned planes. If you have to be at war, you need to have weapons that work.

    • @Earlydawn

      What makes you assume that drones don’t have a black box? If anything, I’d think they would need one for saving ISR data and instrument telemetry when they’re not networked with their ground station.

    • blight

      Yes, and when they bring down this manned aircraft, you’re on the hook to leave no man behind. We can walk away from a drone, even an old one. But when you abandon your pilots to rot in Evin prison…then what?

  • @ptitz

    Heh, i remember basing one of my school projects on Global Hawk. This machine is really unparalleled. I doubt they will seriously cancel the program. It had entered the service rather hastily, rushed into Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, so the high failure rates are not at all unexpected i think.

    …If a U-2, the plane that the Block 30 and 40 versions of the Global Hawk will eventually replace (when it gets over its teething issues and enters full production), went down, it would be a big deal….

    Well, it DID go down back in 1960, 3 years after its introduction. Calling what happened afterwards a big deal is a big understatement. And just like today, CIA tried to cover it up the best they could.

    But yeah, i can imagine these ships do need a lot of love and care. I hope they will resolve these issues somehow.

  • Brian Black

    NATO’s initial press release suggesting possible “mechanical issues”

  • Nick Dwyer

    With some new wings I bet you could hang a boatload of munitions off this platform. A super reaper? I think you could really load up on the sdb’s maybe even make it internal?

  • SJE

    I’m all for a drone, but what is our back up if the enemy hacks our comm links? If the Iranians can do it, then plenty of other countries could do the same just when we need to do some recon. Maybe we should not be replacing U-2s just yet

  • Alan

    The ISAF report twice mentions “forced landing” and only once “crash.”

    Which is it? An important distinction: A “crash” *could,* (if you stretch the definition a bit), be considered a forced landing, but many, many “forced landings” do not result in a crash.

    I now wonder if the vehicle augered in, pranged or landed reasonably intact.

  • LtRipley

    Actually, it does look a bit like the Alien alien. Ironically, a Predator doesn’t look anything like the predator in Predator.

  • JWCook

    Stupid Yankees you should have bought tthe Eurofighter.

    • fxddyna

      Not sure if you’re just “trying” to be funny, but the Eurofighter and Global Hawk are two Entirely different platforms! If you are being serious, you need to read the difference!

    • William

      Eurofighter? Really, that was your comment? Buy it when it has absolutely no mission aspect realitive to the Globalhawk’s?…..I’ll tell you what, we’ll buy the Eurofighter if you ask Lockheed to start up the F-22 assembly line again and you buy about 100 of them. OK?

  • Philibuster

    @JWCook: Idiot.

    Global Hawk is only as good as it’s comms link. Making these UAVs more autonomous (intelligent, if you like) will make them more survivable maybe but a faster, more secure comms link - in particular faster upload - will ensure that the equivalent of black box information will be delivered prior to any terminal incident.

  • Mark

    Who is the author of this article? I don’t see a name….What “Air Force crash database” are you referring too?, AFSAS? If so, that system is not meant for a reporting tool for the media….

  • Pat

    We should have kept the SR-71 (or designed a newer version) which could fly anywhere and had never been shot down due to speed and altitude. Both would have complemented each other for different missions.

    • Will

      The SR-71 was very expensive to maintain (that came from an ex SR-71 squadron 1st sergeant) & would be vulnerable to current SAMSs like the S-300 if it was still around.

  • Tim

    It was a severe hail damage incident where the aircraft successfully returned to base despite major impacts to the vehicles aerodynamics and associated flight dynamics. It did not crash.

    The A/C received temporary repairs along with an engine replacement and has since flown back in the states and is undergoing permanent repairs. It is a testament to the robustness of the unmanned system not evidence of a weakness as you suggest.