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Global Hawk Drone Crashes On Way Back To Beale Air Force Base

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A sophisticated and expensive piece of military equipment based out of Beale Air Force Base crashed on Wednesday during a routine flight in Southern California.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk has been flying for 15 years. The high-altitude aircraft are used on surveillance missions around the world, costing roughly $220 million including development.

In an instant, the 33-drone fleet was reduced by one.

The unmanned plane crashed east of Mt. Whitney in the Eastern Sierra Mountains at 1:45 p.m. No injuries were reported.

The plane was on a non-operational flight from Edwards Air Force base to its home station at Beale Air Force Base. The drone was being piloted by a crew in Palmdale.

"We call it in Aviation a chain of events," said Tom Burg, an aviation professor at Sacramento City College.

"Sometimes it's the airplane, sometimes it's the people, sometimes it's the weather," said Burg.

He says the drones operate much like a manned military aircraft.

"[The plane] has lift, has engines, has flight controls," explained Burg.

The main difference is a drone is flown by a three-person team on the ground. In the past, there were some issues with the plane.

In 2006, the Air Force grounded the Global Hawk for some time because pilots were having a hard time contacting the plane in flight.

Investigators from Beale Air Force Base are looking into what caused this midair mishap.

According to a Beale Air Force Base Spokesperson, the RQ-4 Global Hawk has an outstanding flight safety record and is considered one of the safest platforms in the Air Force fleet of aircraft with over 200,000 flight hours. The last incident or crash of an RQ-4 was in 2012.

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