Beale’s new spy plane could spark economy |

Beale’s new spy plane could spark economy

Beale Air Force Base’s Global Hawk unmanned spy plane could be a major economic boon to the region, according to one economic official.

The plane could generate 1,000 new jobs and $50 million in new spending during the next two to three years from the base’s new mission for an eight-county region which includes Nevada County, said Tim Johnson of the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corp.

“I say there’s 325 companies that have to support Global Hawk,” Johnson said. “If each of them need 5,000 feet of building space, that’s 1.6 million feet of building space” that needs to be filled.

Johnson said Nevada County’s expertise and job base could be a natural fit to fill jobs associated with the plane’s new autonomous technology.

According to Johnson, the technology is exploding behind a myriad of uses for agriculture, communications, law enforcement, mining and defense.

“John Deere is testing an autonomous tractor,” Johnson said. Using satellite technology, a farmer could program his tractor to plow the back 40 at 4 a.m. or tell it to spray for bugs.

Autonomous technology could also keep cell phones going when disasters drop communications towers, Johnson said. A Global Hawk plane flying at 60,000 feet with cell phone equipment could keep the phones going for up to 35 hours.

The Marines already have a small scouting unit they can fly out over enemy lines, Johnson said. The technology can also be used for underwater vehicles.

Johnson said there have been several articles in recent weeks about the technology being used to build a successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous high altitude spy plane phased out at Beale in 1990.

“Wouldn’t you put it back where you had it before?” Johnson asked. “We’re going right after it.”

Johnson said he will be working with area economic experts to bring the new technology business to the region in the near future.

Prototypes of the Global Hawk have been flying since the late 1990s. The craft has participated in test runs at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California since 2001, according to the U.S. Air Force.

The Global Hawk planes are set to arrive at Beale Oct. 15, Johnson said. The planes’ arrival is likely to be veiled in secrecy, though a full-scale replica is to be displayed Oct. 25 at the Yuba County Airport.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Global Hawk Fast facts

The Global Hawk is designed to be the Air Force’s next generation of unmanned spy aircraft. It is due to be based at Beale Air Force Base beginning this winter.

The Global Hawk boasts some impressive features, including:

• It can travel up to 12.000 nautical miles at altitudes above 65,000 feet.

• It is 44 feet long, with a wingspan of 116 feet.

• It has a top speed of 400 miles per hour.

• The plane has been used to fly over 1,000 combat hours and 50 missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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