- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2014

Journalists are fascinated with reports that a U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane recently disrupted commercial aircraft service near Los Angeles by triggering an overload of air traffic control tracking systems, and thus delaying hundreds of flights. Much jaunty and speculative coverage soon emerged.

Questions are cropping up, however.

“But aren’t these aircraft flying daily around there?” asks David Cenciotti, founder of The Aviationist, a blog covering military aircraft.

It would seem so.

In its exclusive coverage, NBC News referred to the U-2 as a “Cold War relic” that “fried” computers in its coverage, claiming the aircraft had originated at Edwards Air Force Base, 30 miles north of Los Angeles.

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance aircraft. It was initially designed by Ryan Aeronautical (now part of Northrop Grumman), and known as Tier II+ during development. In role and operational design, the Global Hawk is similar to the Lockheed U-2. The RQ-4 provides a broad overview and systematic surveillance using high resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles (100,000 km2) of terrain a day.
The Global Hawk is operated by the United States Air Force and U.S. Navy. It is used as a high-altitude platform for surveillance and security. Missions for the Global Hawk cover the spectrum of intelligence collection capability to support forces in worldwide military operations. According to the United States Air Force, the superior surveillance capabilities of the aircraft allow more precise weapons targeting and better protection of friendly forces. Cost overruns have led to the original plan to acquire 63 aircraft being cut to 45, and to a 2013 proposal to mothball the 21 Block 30 signal-intelligence variants. Each aircraft was to cost US$35 million in 2005, but this had risen to $222.7M per aircraft (including development costs) by 2013. The U.S. Navy has developed the Global Hawk into the MQ-4C Triton version for maritime surveillance.

Primary function: High-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial reconnaissance system. Speed: 390 mph. Dimensions: Wingspan 116 ft. 2 in.; length 44 ft. 4 in.; height 15 ft. 2 in. Range: 10,932 miles. Endurance: 35 hours. Crew: Three pilots and sensor operator on the ground.
The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ... more >

Mr. Cenciotti suggests that the U-2 in question was likely from Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento, adding it’s “worth noticing” that U-2s have been flying at 60,000 feet and above for 50 years. The RQ-4 Global Hawk - an unmanned surveillance aircraft introduced in 2001 - also flies at that altitude, and it’s also found at Beale.

“For this reason it seems at least weird that a U-2 transponder triggered the problem only on Apr. 30. What if it was another kind of plane? Something relatively new, like those mystery planes spotted in Kansas and Texas?” he asks.

Well, that’s interesting. That’s a thought. Connecting the dots, the quartet of triangular, reportedly silent mystery aircraft were spotted near Wichita and Amarillo in March. And one more thing. Those following the story also suggest a “hack attack” on the LA airport systems is to blame, rather than the presence of flying disruptor.