Like a 14-tonne bird leaving its nest, Northrop Grumman’s jet-propelled MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) has completed its first cross-country ferry flight as part of operational tests before entering service with the US Navy.

Last week’s 11-hour 3,290 nautical mile (3,786 mi, 6,093 km) flight from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, facility to Patuxent was controlled by a joint team in both locations. Its flight path took it along the southern US border, the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida, up the Atlantic Coast to Chesapeake Bay by way of an approved instrument route. During the flight, the Triton kept to an altitude of 50,000 ft (15,240 m) to avoid civilian air traffic.

Built by Northrop Grumman, the Triton is powered by a Rolls-Royce AE 3007H turbofan engine and is designed to fly surveillance missions of up to 24 hours at altitudes of over 10 miles for a coverage of one million square nautical miles. When in service, it will carry an advanced suite of sensors that can automatically classify different types of ships.

So far, the Triton has completed 15 test flights to show its ability to operate safely. The Navy says that within weeks, Triton is scheduled to carry out a new series of tests on envelope expansion, sensor, communications and interoperability testing with more to follow over the next three years. By the time Triton is deemed operational in 2017, the three Triton test vehicles will have chalked up 2,000 hours in the air.

"Today we brought Triton home to the center of research, development, test and evaluation for naval aviation," says Rear Admiral Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO (U&W)) at NAVAIR. "The testing performed here over the next few years is critical to delivering a capability that will provide our warfighter an unparalleled awareness of the maritime environment in locations across the globe."

The video below discusses the cross-country Triton flight.

Source: US Navy

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