The U.S. Navy's newest and largest drone took another step last week towards its first operational deployment in 2017 after it completed a cross country flight to Patuxent River, Maryland, where engineers will complete more tests on the MQ-4C Triton.
Navy pilots flew the Triton at altitudes of 50,000 feet from Palmdale, California, along the U.S. southern border with Mexico and up the Atlantic Coast. The 3,290 nautical mile flight took 11 hours for the Triton to complete, Navy officials said.
Officials said the Triton will fly up to 2,000 hours before it's deployed operationally at sea. The Navy has grand plans for the Triton once it enters operational service.
"We brought Triton home to the center of research, development, test and evaluation for naval aviation," said Rear Adm. 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 aircraft, which boasts a 130-foot wingspan and can reach altitudes of 60,000 feet, is engineered as a long-endurance surveillance platform, meaning it can stay in the air as long at 30 hours on a single mission.
Navy admirals plan to use the Triton to offer better situational awareness across the large swaths of ocean the Navy's fleets cover. Triton will feature advanced radars that will help carrier strike groups identify enemy threats.
The Triton’s next-generation radar, called the Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS), is a 360-degree radar capability optimized to provide the identification of surface ships over vast areas covering thousands of miles..
Its sensors also include a high-definition, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red camera and a communications relay device so that it can function as a line-of-sight “node” connecting Naval forces dispersed over a large area.
Below is a video of the Triton landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River followed by an interview with Winter.