Airliner-sized US Navy drone completes first transcontinental flight

22 September 2014

An airliner-sized Navy surveillance drone making its first transcontinental flight on Wednesday night, flew for about 11 hours across the US and landed at a Navy base in Maryland on Thursday morning, Daily Mail reported.

Airliner-sized US Navy drone completes first transcontinental flightThe cross-country test was the first for the MQ-4C Triton, which would play a role in the Navy's planned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance programme.

The Triton took off from an airfield in Palmdale, California, at Northrop Grumman, which manufactures the aircraft, and crossed the Gulf of Mexico. It tracked up the Atlantic coast and landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

The massive MQ-4C landed on Thursday morning in Maryland after flying overnight from California, and in the process showed the long-range capabilities of the aircraft.

According to a Navy press release, the unmanned aircraft flew above 50,000 feet to avoid commercial air traffic and that after 11 hours and 3,290 miles landed safely in Maryland.

According to The Washington Post, the drone could provide blanket surveillance for the Navy as part of the branch's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance programme.

Northrop Grumman said, the unmanned aircraft, with a wingspan of 130 feet also had the capacity to fly up to 28 hours at a time and survey 1million square miles in a single mission.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman said in a press release that 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 an unprecedented 360-degree field of regard for detecting and identifying ships.

"Now that the aircraft has arrived, we are ready to conduct the next phase of the test programme," said captain James Hoke, Triton programme manager, Naval Air Systems Command. "Triton is one of the Navy's most significant investments in unmanned aircraft systems to date and we look forward to evaluating its capabilities."

In preparation for the cross-country flight, a Navy/Northrop Grumman team completed numerous systems tests on Triton.

During the flight, the joint 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.

"Triton is the Navy's largest, most advanced unmanned maritime surveillance system to cross such a distance," said Mike Mackey, Triton UAS programme director, Northrop Grumman. "The successful flight was the result of a Navy/Northrop Grumman team effort, from finishing a major software package to managing equipment inspections."

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

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

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