Aerial Photos of Beale AFB, June 21, 2020

Beale AFB, about 35 miles north of Sacramento, CA, is home of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing which operates most of the nation's U-2 and of the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron which operates unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft. It is also home to the newly reactivated 427th Reconnaissance Squadron. That unit is thought to operate the mysterious high-tech reconnaissance UAV dubbed RQ-180. An aircraft likely developed and tested at Area 51 and believed to be operational since 2017. Still, even its true designation is elusive, let alone any photos of it.

Soon after the 427 RS was reactivated they co-hosted the opening ceremony for the new Common Mission Control Center (CMCC) at Beale is 2019. Around the same time an existing hangar at the north end of the base was improved, a fuel tank added and a new security fence was installed separating that hangar from the rest of the base. While it is believed that the operational fleet of RQ-180 is stationed at Edwards AFB South Base it is quite possible that it is operated by the 427 RS via the new CMCC from Beale. The newly secured hangar may hold a pre-production model for tests and hands-on training. Parts of the CMCC may or may not be in that hangar as well. Scroll down to see a close-up of the potential RQ-180 hangar.

The photos were taken on Sunday, June 21, 2020. Publication on Dreamland Resort with friendly permission. Click in the photos to enlarge.

Panorama of the flight line, looking roughly ENE

Panorama of the entire base, including the runway 15/33

U-2 and RQ-4 reconnaissance aircraft on the southern part of the ramp

KC-135 tankers of the 940th Air Refueling Wing, also home at Beale AFB, in the northern part of the base

Image enhancement reveals an aircraft in the open hangar. As much as we wish it was the elusive RQ-180, comparing it to the RQ-4 in front of it (superimposed for comparison) shows that it is a Global Hawk, probably in the hangar for maintenance.

Image enhancement reveals T-38 trainer aircraft under three new shelters near the center of the base. They were moved here from the northern part of the ramp.

With the RQ-180 being remotely operated from Beale, it makes sense to keep a pre-production model on site. This secure hangar at the north end of the base would be a good candidate. It has its own newly installed security fence and secure gate and it is far enough away from the rest of the base to ensure secure operations. It also has a newly installed fuel tank right next to it. The T-38 trainers that were parked near this hangar have now been moved to the central part of the ramp (see above). All these changes took place since the most recent Google Earth image from May of 2018.

Related Links:

Raw photos from the 06/21/2020 flight over Beale AFB, CA

Beale Air Force Base - Official USAF Home Page

Wikipedia: Beale Air Force Base

Aviation Week: USAF Unit Moves Reveal Clues To RQ-180 Ops Debut


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