The U.S. Navy on Wednesday continued its preparation to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into its future operations, completing the first test flight of its newest Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconaissance (ISR) aircraft, the MQ-4C Triton.
(MQ-4C Triton in flight. Photo: NAVAIR.)
The Triton completed an 80-minute flight, reaching an altitude of 20,000 feet within restricted airspace over Palmdale, Calif.
Northrop Grumman--the Triton's manufacturer--and U.S. Navy personnel controlled the UAS from a ground-based station. The flight comes a week after the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) completed the first launch of an unmanned aircraft from an aircraft carrier
, using Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS).
NAVAIR is calling the Triton a "game-changing" platform that will be a major part of the military's surveillance strategy for missions in the Asia and Pacific regions. The Triton is an enhanced version of Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAS, with a wingspan of 130.9 feet and the ability to scan 2,000 nautical miles.
Future operational capability for the Triton is planned for 24-hour surveillance missions at altitudes of nearly 53,000 feet. The UAS could also be a complement to the P-8A Poseidon, NAVAIR's new long-range anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
(MQ-4C Tritons. Photo: NAVAIR.)
“When operational, the MQ-4C will complement our manned P-8 because it can fly for long periods, transmit its information in real-time to units in the air and on ground, as well as use less resources than previous surveillance aircraft,” said Rear Adm. Sean Buck, commander of the patrol and reconnaissance group for NAVAIR.
“Triton will bring an unprecedented ISR capability to the warfighter," adds Buck, who witnessed the flight on Wednesday.
NAVAIR will continue flight tests in California over the summer before transitioning the Triton to its base in Patuxent River, Md. this fall. The platform is still several years away from being certified for operational use.
Related: Unmanned Systems News