The Navy’s MQ-4C Triton completed its initial flight test phase at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., facility March 13, bringing the unmanned air system one step closer to introduction to the fleet in 2017.
The flight testing, called Initial Envelope Expansion, is designed to measure the air vehicle’s performance under a variety of speeds and altitudes. The combined Navy and Northrop Grumman team completed this phase of testing in 13 of the 14 scheduled flights for the test.
“The system performed exceptionally well during flight test, which is a reflection of years of hard work and dedication by our team,” said Capt. Jim Hoke, Triton UAS program manager. “Our job is far from over with fleet delivery still a few years away, but each of our team members should reflect on how far we have come and be proud of this accomplishment.”
During IEE, the MQ-4C flew a total of 81 hours, reached a maximum altitude of 59,950 feet and executed 568 data points.
The Triton’s software and sensor systems are being tested separately on a surrogate aircraft. This includes a multi-function array sensor (MFAS), configured to function in a maritime environment.
After testing completion at Palmdale, the team has a planned maintenance period to prepare for the system’s transition to Naval Air Station Patuxent River. The MQ-4C will take its first cross-country flight in the June/July timeframe, followed by the second test aircraft shortly after. Sensors will be integrated onto both aircraft before resuming flight test this summer.
As an adjunct to the manned P-8A aircraft, the Triton will cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single mission. Its ability to perform 24/7 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with a range of 2,000 nautical miles will allow P-8A, P-3C and EP-3E aircraft to focus on their core missions, adding the capability the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force.