The US Navy's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has successfully completed its initial flight test phase, marking a step ahead to its introduction to the fleet in 2017, at Northrop Grumman's facility in Palmdale, California, US.
During the test programme, known as initial envelope expansion, the Northrop Grumman/Navy test team conducted 13 flights and executed 568 test points while clearing the aircraft to fly at various altitudes, speeds and weights.
The initial envelope expansion phase aimed to measure the aircraft's performance under a variety of speeds and altitudes.
Naval Air Systems Command Triton programme manager captain James Hoke said, "Following Triton's first flight in May, we've seen a steady increase in the number of test flights and test points being accomplished."
He added that the team is working to fly the second test aircraft, following which both aircraft will be delivered to Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Featuring a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor payloads, Triton allows military commanders to gather high-resolution imagery, use radar to detect targets, and provide airborne communications and information-sharing capabilities to military units across long distances.
Northrop Grumman Triton programme director Mike Mackey said that the team has conducted thousands of hours of simulated flight tests in the laboratory.
"This is a valuable activity because we can review test points in simulated environments that leaves us with less needing to be cleared during actual flight tests," Mackey added.
"Not only does this save time, it also costs less money by flying only to ensure test points are cleared."
The US Navy is said to be planning to build 68 Triton UAS for use with the manned P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to perform persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions across vast ocean and coastal regions.
Image: A MQ-4C Triton aircraft in flight. Photo by Alan Radecki, courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corp.