New Sensor in The US Air Force’s Service

new sensor

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Flight tests have commenced on a new sensor that the US Air Force plans to deploy on the Global Hawk autonomous aircraft as they replace aging U-2 spy planes.

Northrop Grumman Corp. announced that it recently completed the first in a series of planned flight tests of the MS-177 multi-spectral imaging sensor aboard an RQ-4 Global Hawk. The long-range sensor is built by UTC Aerospace Systems, a unit of United Technologies (UTC) Corp.

Previously, the sensor suite was demonstrated in flight tests last year conducted by UTC. Following those trials, the Air Force awarded UTC a design contract to expand the sensor’s multi-spectral resolution capabilities.

The MS-177 payload is the next generation of the company’s current sensor, the Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System-2 (SYERS-2) currently flown on U-2S spy planes. UTC claims the new sensor payload can provide the longest range imaging capability in the U.S. military’s surveillance and reconnaissance arsenal.

Along with spotting targets at long range using a wide area search capability that relies on multiple sensor technologies, the payload is billed as being able to track and assess targets via “multiple sensor modalities,” Northrop Grumman said.

Deployed on Global Hawk, which can remain aloft for more than 30 hours, the high-altitude platform is expected, according to, to gather near real-time high-resolution imagery over wide areas during both day and night.  

The sensor payload was shipped to Northrop Grumman’s facility in California for laboratory tests at the end of last year.

According to program managers, they intend to demonstrate the ability to record and transmit ISR data. The company also said it expects to advance from the current seven-band multi-spectral system to a suite that operates in as many as 10 spectral bands.

Flight tests of the MR-177 payloads aboard the Global Hawk are scheduled to continue through the middle of 2017. The ISR platform could be fielded as early as the end of the year, UTC said last fall.