Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy are progressing rapidly in flight-testing the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft.
The company announced on Jan. 6 that the single-engine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) machine had completed nine sorties since its first flight on May 22, marking roughly the half-way point in the jet’s envelope expansion process.
“Completion of envelope expansion will allow the test team to prepare for installation and further testing of Triton’s surveillance sensors,” Mike Mackey, Northrop Grumman’s Triton program director said in a statement released by the company.
The Triton will eventually carry a 360-degree AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) active electronically scanned array radar, MTS-B electro-optical/infrared camera, AN/ZLQ-1 electronic support measures suite and an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver.
It will also have satellite communications and Link-16 capability and to act as a communications relay for the fleet.
During the envelope expansion process, the flight test team progressively pushes the aircraft out to more demanding speeds and altitudes and at different aircraft gross weights. The idea is to make sure the aircraft flies as predicted by engineers, and to correct any problems that might crop up.
For this series of tests, Northrop stated that the MQ-4C has completed flights that are 9.4 hours in duration at altitudes of up to 50,000ft. It has also performed maneuvers called doublets, which are designed to test the jet’s ability to recover from disturbances in its flight path cause by turbulence.
The Navy plans to buy a total of 68 MQ-4C aircraft, of which 20 would be operated at any given time to generate five “orbits”. The Triton would be used in conjunction with the Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.