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An eye on Haiti: Global Hawk images help direct relief efforts.

From thousands of miles away, Capt. Kyle Blaikie had an eye focused on earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The eye, on board the RQ-4 Global Hawk he was flying remotely from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., provided images showing the areas most in need of attention. The information provided by the RQ-4 was invaluable not only to the US military personnel across the services responding to the crisis but also the host of international aid organizations helping in the Haitian effort.

"It feels good to know that the imagery the Global Hawk community collected directly impacted the relief workers and first responders on the ground," Captain Blaikie said. "Without the Global Hawk imagery, nobody knows how difficult and drawn-out relief response would have been and how much more the Haitian people would have suffered. It felt great knowing I had a hand in making the overall relief efforts more efficient and knowing the Air Force is using cutting-edge technology in humanitarian relief efforts and supporting first responders."

Similar 9th Reconnaissance Wing missions supported Southern California wildfire response, but this was the first time Global Hawk was used for disaster relief operations in the Caribbean, said Col. Bradley G. Butz, vice wing commander of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing at Langley AFB, Va. Forty-five pilots and 45 sensor operators from the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron guided six Global Hawk missions over Haiti and produced about 2,600 images, said Capt. Gary Toroni, the squadron's operations flight commander. These images proved crucial in pinpointing areas where people needed help. They also assisted American troops and international aid workers by showing areas that were safe to enter. Image analysts looked at the condition of airfields, bridges, railways, roads and seaports to make sure aid arrived via safe entry points.


Global Hawk Airmen were eager to help. After the earthquake made international news, Captain Toroni started getting calls from Beale Airmen asking if they could help.

"The dynamics of assisting the warfighters on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq has its own place, but it was special to be able to come together with all of these other agencies at a moment's notice," Captain Toroni said. "Global Hawk doing this type of mission kind of expands our footprint into what we can accomplish. For Beale Air Force Base, that's huge, to not only be combat and security oriented, but also to have this evolution to more humanitarian assistance."

Missions normally take 45 to 90 days to plan. But 12th RS mission planner Greg Gustafson prepared the Haiti plan in less than 12 hours. The aircraft was on its way 24 hours after the earthquake.

The Global Hawk flew to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where it was based during Haiti operations. The mission also depended on 200 maintenance specialists, Captain Blaikie said.

"It wasn't just the pilots, but also the maintainers, wing leadership and contractors," he said. "It took our entire base."

Images from Global Hawk were processed two ways. In about 12 minutes, images could be enhanced so analysts could tell host nation officials they were seeing a crack in the highway instead of a shadow on the image, Captain Toroni said. With the other method, analysts produced a raw image that was available in a couple of minutes.

These images were valuable in guiding pilots to safe landing areas. The destruction was shocking, even to Global Hawk pilots who had seen combat damage.

"I would say what we saw from the images could be compared to seeing imagery of battle damage assessment," Captain Toroni said. "There were buildings that looked like a bomb had gone off inside them. They were pretty extreme."

"When I was able to see some of the imagery, I began to feel like I was actually helping the larger humanitarian relief mission," Captain Blaikie said. "I didn't realize that on the first mission, but it hit home that we were actually directly supporting what was going on. A lot of times we were taking pictures of the highways so Marines and Soldiers could travel across with certain trucks. They were the people who were actually going in to provide relief. We were just there to provide any support from the Global Hawk we were able to give them."

The eye on Haiti helped keep people safe as they brought aid to Haiti.

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Author:Roughton, Randy
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:May 1, 2010
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