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5/28/2013 | 1 MINUTE READ

Northrop Grumman, Navy complete Triton unmanned aircraft first flight

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Northrop Grumman's MQ4C Triton high-altitude unmanned aircraft is designed for over-water use and can fly for up to 24 hours at altitudes of more than 10 miles.


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The Northrop Grumman Corp. (Palmdale, Calif., USA)­ reported on May 22 that its MQ­4C Triton high-­altitude unmanned aircraft successfully completed its first flight from the company's manufacturing facility in Palmdale.

Triton is specially designed to fly surveillance missions up to 24 hours at altitudes of more than 10 miles/16 km – allowing coverage out to 2,000 nautical miles. The advanced suite of sensors can detect and automatically classify different types of ships.

"First flight represents a critical step in maturing Triton's systems before operationally supporting the Navy's maritime surveillance mission around the world," says Capt. James Hoke, Triton program manager with Naval Air Systems Command. "Replacing our aging surveillance aircraft with a system like Triton will allow us to monitor ocean areas significantly larger with greater persistence."

A U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman flight test team conducted about a 1.5-­hour flight that started at 7:10 a.m. from Palmdale. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor to the Navy's MQ­4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program.

Additional flight tests will take place from Palmdale to mature the system before being flown to the main flight test facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., later this year.

In 2008, Northrop Grumman was awarded a systems development and demonstration contract to build two aircraft and test them in preparation for operational missions. The Navy's program of record calls for 68 Tritons to be built. Triton carries a variety of ISR sensor payloads that allow military commanders to gather high­-resolution imagery, use radar to detect targets and provide airborne communications and information-sharing capabilities to military units across long distances.

At 130.9 ft/40m, Triton has a wingspan larger than the world's most common commercial airliner, the Boeing 737. Combined with an efficient engine and other aerodynamic design features, Triton can fly 11,500 miles/18,507 km without refueling.

"Triton is the most advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR] unmanned aircraft system ever designed for use across vast ocean areas and coastal regions," says Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman Triton UAS deputy program director. "Through a cooperative effort with the Navy and our industry partners, we successfully demonstrated the flight control systems that allow Triton to operate autonomously. We couldn't be prouder of the entire team for this achievement."

Northrop Grumman's Triton industry team includes Aurora Flight Sciences, BAE Systems, Curtis­Wright Corp., L3 Communications, Raytheon, Rolls­ Royce, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Vought Aircraft Industries.