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The MQ-4C Triton UAS is shown taking off from Northrop Grumman's Palmdale facility in mid September for its cross-country flight to NAS Patuxent River. (Alan Radecki)

Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton UAS enters next phase of testing

The first U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) recently flew 11 hours from the Northrop Grumman facility in Palmdale, CA, to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland to start its next phase of testing, moving the program closer toward operational assessment. The MQ-4C Triton UAS provides real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance over ocean and coastal regions. (For a short video of the flight, click here.)

During the flight, the joint Navy/Northrop team controlled the aircraft from a ground station in Palmdale, which served as the forward operating base, and a Navy System Integration Lab at Patuxent River, which served as the main operating base. The aircraft traveled along the same flight path that was used to transfer the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator from Palmdale to Patuxent River several years ago.

At Patuxent River, the aircraft will be outfitted with a sensor suite, before going through a series of sensor integration flights. One of Triton's primary sensors, the AN/ZPY-3 multifunction active sensor radar, will provide what Northrop describes as "an unprecedented 360° field of regard" for detecting and identifying ships.

Over the next few weeks, two other Tritons, one of which is a demonstration aircraft owned by Northrop, will also fly to Patuxent River. Both will be used during system development and demonstration tests.

Based on the Global Hawk UAS, Triton features a reinforced airframe and wing, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems. These features allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed.

Triton is specifically designed for maritime missions of up to 24 hours. It can fly at altitudes higher than 10 mi, allowing for coverage of 1 million nmi² of ocean, in a single mission.

The Navy’s program of record calls for 68 aircraft to be fielded.

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