NASA's unmanned Global Hawk completes key test flight

It's not the miniature robotic space shuttle that NASA's planning to send into orbit this month, but another of the space agency's unmanned vehicles has edged closer to its beginning its mission, with the "nearly autonomous" Global Hawk aircraft having completed a key test flight bright and early on April 2nd. While the aircraft has flown before, this was the first flight for it after being loaded up with eleven different scientific instruments, which will be used to examine trace gases, aerosols, and dynamics of the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. This flight will shortly be followed by another test run to ensure that everything checks out, after which it will begin its first long-duration mission sometime later this month. While there's no video of this particular test flight, there is a video of the instruments being loaded onto the aircraft, shot with the very camera that's now installed vehicle's tail (and augmented with the requisite Benny Hill theme song). Check it out after the break.