Home » Aviation » Navy Pauses Operations of MQ-4C Triton Squadron After Crash-Landing This Week


Navy Pauses Operations of MQ-4C Triton Squadron After Crash-Landing This Week

The MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system approaches the runway at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after completing its inaugural cross-country flight from California on Sept. 18, 2014. US Navy photo.

The Navy’s Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 is temporarily standing down operations while it investigates the crash of an MQ-4C Triton in California this week.

A Triton conducting operational testing out of Naval Base Ventura County in California on Wednesday “had an issue during flight and the decision was made to bring it back to base. While heading in for landing, the engine was shut down but the landing gear did not extend. The aircraft landed on its belly on the runway. No one was hurt and there was no collateral damage,” Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic, told USNI News today.

The incident is still under investigation, with the Navy still looking into the cause of the malfunctions and the cost estimate of the damage to the aircraft. Hecht did say that the cost was expected to be more than $2 million, marking this incident as a Class A aviation mishap.

While the investigation goes on, VUP-19 – which has a dual-site command structure at both Naval Base Ventura County and Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. – will cease flying for an indefinitely amount of time.

VUP-19 stood up at NAS Jacksonville in October 2016 and was the first squadron in the Navy to consist solely of unmanned aircraft. The squadron falls under Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11 and is collocated in Jacksonville with the wing’s P-8A Poseidons, a manned airplane that also conducts maritime surveillance. The Tritons and Poseidons were identified as a natural pairing for manned/unmanned teaming and have already proven their ability to pass information from the unmanned plane to the operators aboard the manned P-8s.

The Navy has said it would deploy its first operational Tritons to Guam by the end of this year, and the unmanned aircraft in California were conducting tests ahead of that deployment to Guam.

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Categories: Aviation, News & Analysis, U.S. Navy
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.

  • muzzleloader

    A belly landing by a drone. It had to happen at some point.

    • IssacBabel

      So now our robots have training issues ?
      Maybe the robot was posting on social media
      during the landing ?

      • Curtis Conway

        Programing, configuration, or maintenance issues.

        • RunningBear

          I’m beginning to think this may even be an operational procedures error, of course that becomes an oversight or non-human responsibility or program error.

          Question, ….if the only engine is shutdown, is there a backup energy source to extend and control the landing gear. Or did the mistake of shutting down the only engine cause all of this damage and outrage!

          My experience, is wrecking the cheap to repair engine to save the expensive surveillance systems is a foregone automatic decision.

          Whoever “screwed the pooch”, should be looking for another job!
          IMHO
          Fly Navy
          🙂

          • Curtis Conway

            Them be Operational Issues!

          • Convair fan

            The engine shuts down autonomously on an emergency landing. There is enough battery power to do the maneuver. Nitrogen blow down for the emergency gear extension. Pilot has minimal control over the UA, just tell it to land and it says “Aye Aye, Sir”. Not sure about the sir part (-;

  • Ed L

    Gremlins, Chinese kind?

  • RunningBear

    Is this a remote pilot error or a glitch in the autonomous landing program, or power issues on the drone?? USN may never release a public report, ever.
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

    • RojMaj

      The “pilots” don’t really have much direct control over the air vehicle. They are more like directors and the thing pilots itself.

      • RunningBear

        Some what agree; the autonomous functions (auto-take off, auto-land) don’t require pilot intervention, usually. The Triton does have a pilot, that allows it to investigate “dive down to lower altitudes” sea level surface concerns. The safety requirement for “Human In the Loop” for the deviation from autonomous, would require a pilot intervention. This accident appears to be “someone/ thing” turned off the engine/ system and the aircraft “dead sticked” a landing/ crash onto the runway. Whatever, this is an operational error that is “no doubt” un-forgiveable.
        IMHO
        Fly Navy
        🙂

        • RojMaj

          Every function is autonomous. Even when they deviate, the “pilots” (we call them Air vehicle Operators by the way) can task the aircraft, but they can’t control it. It would be similar to calling a pilot on the radio and asking them to change course, you don’t have control of how they do it. It is not possible to “deviate from autonomous”.

          There’s also no such thing as “deadstick” on the Triton, the computer either has control, or it doesn’t. All flight controls are electronic, so as long as there is battery power for the computer, the controls would be fully functional even without the engine. If the batteries die as well, then it’s just gliding in whatever direction it’s pointed.

  • Natalya

    Just a casual observance: If the engine is shut off, where does the Triton get its power to deploy the landing gear?

    • muzzleloader

      Almost all high performance aircraft have emergency blow down systems using high pressure air for such situations.

      • Natalya

        Okay, thank you!

    • RojMaj

      It has batteries.

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    Gotta love autonomous systems until they don’t work. HIL is still a necessity regardless.

  • William Blankinship

    Things just happen.

  • b2

    Perspective- at over $100 mil a copy for an undefended, 1st day of the war, ISR (RADAR, EO/IR, ELINT) drone this vehicle should not be considered “expendable”, because it is NOT. Remember, it was supposed to have been operational nearly 10 years ago and have all these neat interoperability things w/P-8A. Well it doesn’t, its late, and its very expensive… IMO, another self inflicted wound as the price of this unrestricted move to unmanned systems just because “we can”…