The MQ-4C Triton has completed an 11-hour, 3,290nm transcontinental flight from the Northrop Grumman facility in Palmdale, California, to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, where the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is due to begin its next phase of testing.
The aircraft flew the same flightpath as was used to transfer the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator (BAMS-D) from Palmdale to Patuxent River several years ago. That saw the aircraft fly along the southern US border, over the Gulf of Mexico and across Florida. Operators then guided the aircraft up the Atlantic coast and over the Chesapeake Bay at altitudes in excess of 50,000ft to avoid potential conflicts with civilian air traffic.
The aircraft will now be fitted with a sensor suite before it is put through a series of sensor integration flights, while over the next few weeks, two more MQ-4C aircraft (one of which is a demonstrator aircraft owned by Northrop Grumman) are expected to fly to Patuxent River to take part in test activities.
“Triton is the Navy’s largest, most advanced unmanned maritime surveillance system to cross such a distance,” Mike Mackey, Triton UAS program director at Northrop Grumman, said of the flight. “The successful flight was the result of a Navy/Northrop Grumman team effort, from finishing a major software package to managing equipment inspections.”
Triton initial operating capability (IOC) with the US Navy is planned for 2017.
After the Australian government announced earlier this year its intent to acquire the Triton, up to seven are expected to be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia, operated by the Royal Australian Air Force alongside the Boeing P-8A Poseidon to replace the AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.