First unveiled in mid-2012, Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton UAV has now made its first flight. Carried out on 22 May 2013, the first Triton UAV flight lasted approximately 90 minutes and serve to validate the drone's autonomous flight control systems.
Triton is a specialised surveillance UAV with a 24 hour endurance and a 2,000 nautical mile field of coverage. Equipped with an array of state-of-the-art sensors, it can spot and identify ships whilst loitering ten miles above the surface of the Earth.
Triton has a 130 foot wingspan, making it wider than some commercial airliners. Thanks to its high-performance engine technology, supplemented by other aerodynamic elements, Triton can undertake 11,500 mile sorties without the need to refuel.
Triton First Flight
"Triton is the most advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft system ever designed for use across vast ocean areas and coastal regions", deputy Triton programme director at Northrop Grumman, Mike Mackey, explained in a company press release on the UAV's first flight. "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."
"First flight represents a critical step in maturing Triton's systems before operationally supporting the Navy's maritime surveillance mission around the world", added Naval Air Systems Command's Triton programme manager, Captain James Hoke. "Replacing our aging surveillance aircraft with a system like Triton will allow us to monitor ocean areas significantly larger with greater persistence."
MQ-4C Triton Naval UAV
Further MQ-4C Triton naval UAV test flights will now be undertaken in coming weeks before the prototype is delivered to NAS Patuxent River in late 2013 to begin a new series of trials.
Just last week, Australia emerged as a potential Triton purchaser, with the country's Defence Minister Stephen Smith announcing a desire to acquire "unmanned aircraft capable of undertaking broad-area maritime surveillance and fleet overwatch."
In Royal Australian Air Force service, the Triton would partner up with the Boeing P-8A Poseidon to create a double-edged maritime patrol capability.