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Open Skies: An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft based at Beale AFB, Calif., is conducting a series of 12 flights in this fiscal year over parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean at the request of partner nations in the region, Air Forces Southern announced Monday. These non-military mapping flights, dubbed "eco-missions," will provide high-quality, multi-spectrum imagery to the partner nations for purposes ranging from counterdrug operations and disaster response planning to monitoring deforestation, urbanization, and beach erosion. "This program is a prime example of how regional challenges can be overcome using new technology, creativity, and cooperation," said Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, commander of 12th Air Force/AFSOUTH. Six eco-missions were flown in Fiscal 2008. Each flight originates and ends at Beale. Since this sometimes leaves little time to collect images even though the Global Hawk can stay aloft for about 30 hours, the Air Force is exploring the use of refueling stops in the region to increase the aircraft’s reach and the duration of each mission. (Davis-Monthan report by TSgt. Eric Petosky)