Shooting a Plane in One of The Quietest Places on Earth

By Rebecca Horne | July 29, 2010 2:32 pm

An RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft hangs inside the Benefield Anechoic Facility at Edwards AFB 6/30/08. RQ-4 Global Hawk is a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) used by the United States Air Force and Navy as a surveillance aircraft. “R” is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance; “Q” means unmanned aircraft system. The “4” refers to it being the fourth of a series of purpose-built unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The Global Vigilance Combined Test Force concluded an electromagnetic profile study for the Global Hawk Block 20 at the Benefield Anechoic Facility in summer 2008. The three-week study marked the first time the test force used an entire Global Hawk aircraft for testing inside the anechoic facility.

“We are testing the aircraft at the BAF (Benefield Anechoic Facility) because we have a sealed chamber, which allows no radio frequency to come into or go out of it,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Stilson, 772nd Test Squadron project lead engineer. “We are completely sealed off from the outside world and interferences, such as cell phones and radios, which sometimes make it hard to separate the aircraft’s radio frequency from the environment.” The result of this testing is part of the Federal Aviation Administration requirement for the Global Hawk’s airworthiness certification. “It is a certificate required by the FAA to allow an air vehicle to fly in the national airspace,” said Ed De Reyes, Northrop Grumman EMI Test Lead. “Because the Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle, the FAA is requiring a higher standard for the aircraft.”

Photographer Jet Fabara had this to say about making this shot: “When I first arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, the only fact I was given about the BAF was that it was used in the movie Armageddon and that if I ever had the opportunity to take photos inside the facility it would be different than any other building I’d shoot in. To give you a better idea of the building’s scale, when the BAF was being constructed in 1988, the heart of the facility would be the largest electromagnetic-free environment for flight test programs like the B-52 and C-17 at that time. Since the interior of the test facility is suppose to simulate “free space,” any person that enters the BAF will always tell you that testing in the BAF is like testing in a sound proof booth.”

“The first time I entered the BAF, I remember feeling like I underestimated the size and dimension of the entire facility. Once the facility’s doors close, there is a complete sense of seclusion from the world. The blue stalagmite- and stalactite-looking material that surrounds every facet of the interior creates a cave where noise becomes completely absent. The most interesting thing about documenting inside the BAF is that I had never seen aircraft suspended from the ceiling of a building before. I’d seen aircraft in the air, inverted and banking, but never hanging. The day I was called out to document the RQ-4 in the BAF, I was also impressed at how the wings spanned across the width of the facility.”

Courtesy Jet Fabara/USAF

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  • testforce reviews

    from the article this photo is “live” as in real, but it looks like a computer generated representation. It must be part of the training facility ‘look’.

  • Been There

    The pic must be computer generated. I got a tour of Edwards AFB some time ago. I wasn’t even allowed to aim my camera in the direction of this building. There would have been no way for me to go inside — you need top secret clearance for that. I considered myself privileged to have even been able to see it at all. It is absolutely massive! Yes, you could easily fit a whole cargo plane inside (and then some). It made me and my life seem pretty small.

  • Justin Lapp (ActualityScience)

    The Global Hawk is an amazing aircraft. It is kind of interesting that the military will fly the thing anywhere in the world, including probably place where it is not authorized or cleared for, but it needs extra certification from the FAA to fly at home.

  • Ed

    I’m the EMI test lead mentioned in the article, and I assure you that it’s real. It isn’t cgi, and no, you only have to have a secret clearance (and a reason) to enter. Pictures aren’t prohibited by Edwards Air Force Base – but they must be cleared by base security before you’re allowed to take any photographs.

    This picture was taken by an official Air Force photographer, and was released to the public through the base Public Affairs Office (PAO).

    @testforce reviews: The BAF isn’t a training facility, but rather a test facility. There is nothing secret about the way it was constructed – an anechoic chamber in China looks about the same as one in the United States. Why? Because the RF Absorbent Material (RAM) that is used in each chamber is designed to eliminate reflections and suppress signals that aren’t from the subject under test, from the equipment, and from emissions outside the chamber itself.

    @Justin Lapp – the FAA controls all the airspace in the United States, so they want to make sure that if the Global Hawk will be flying in the same airspace as Cessnas and Bonanzas and Gulfstreams, it’s not going to run into another aircraft…therefore it must meet some of the same rules that any other airplane must meet. I’ve worked on certifying airplanes to FAA standards for companies, military organizations and even individuals. As a pilot, I agree that I don’t want something in the same airspace that I’m in that doesn’t meet some minimum requirements.

    Tours of Edwards AFB are always available; the museum is on the base itself and the tours are usually available through the PAO office.


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About Rebecca Horne

Rebecca Horne ( is an artist, multi-platform freelance writer, and award-winning photography director. She launched Visual Science for in March 2010. She also writes about science and photography for The WallStreet Journal. You can reach her at


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