Innovation Through Compromise: Alfredo Ramirez and the Global Hawk Robot Spy Plane

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tactical reconnaissance drones before the Pentagon established a “fly-off” competition for development of an unmanned high-altitude, long-endurance spy plane.

It was clear that the market for unmanned aircraft was rapidly expanding, Ramirez says. But the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 also meant broader cuts elsewhere in U.S. Defense spending.

“We were basically facing a situation where if we didn’t win the contract, we were out of a job,” Ramirez says. So while Teledyne considered developing a more exotic “flying wing” design, he says the company decided it was more important to “get to first flight with fewer problems and complete flight tests with fewer problems.”

First sketch of Global Hawk

First sketch of Global Hawk

As the team’s “architect,” Ramirez says he had to accommodate requirements set by other engineering groups. The aircraft’s bulbous nose, for example, was dictated by the need to house a 48-inch parabolic dish antenna that maintains constant contact with a military satellite.

In the end, Ramirez says his approach to aircraft design “is the art of the compromise.”

“You can come up with a really exoteric, off-the-wall design,” Ramirez says. “But it doesn’t do you any good if it doesn’t satisfy all the requirements of the other teams. A balanced design inherently means a better chance for success.”

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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One response to “Innovation Through Compromise: Alfredo Ramirez and the Global Hawk Robot Spy Plane”

  1. I watched a program on discovery about this aircraft. The pilots are actually fling it from las vegas. They tend to use real
    pilots to fly them