The US Navy and Northrop Grumman have successfully completed nine initial flight tests of the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at Northrop's manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California, US, as part of the envelope expansion process.
The expansion programme aims to demonstrate the ability of the aircraft to operate at a range of altitudes, speeds and weights.
Northrop Grumman Triton programme director, Mike Mackey, said that the envelope expansion completion will enable the test team to prepare for installation and further testing of Triton's surveillance sensors.
To date, the Triton test team has achieved flights up to 9.4-hours at altitudes up to 50,000ft, while the aircraft conducted doublets, a manoeuvre designed to validate ability of the aircraft to recover from small perturbations in its flight path caused by turbulence.
Featuring a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor payloads, the Triton aircraft enables military commanders to gather high-resolution imagery, use radar to detect targets as well as provide airborne communications and information-sharing capabilities to military units across long distances.
The MQ-4C Triton programme is managed by the Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Programme Office (PMA-262).
In addition to providing real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions, the Northrop-built MQ-4C UAS will support missions including battle damage assessment, maritime interdiction, anti-surface warfare, battle-space management and targeting missions for the navy.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, the high-altitude, long-endurance UAS can cruise at a maximum speed of 357mph.
The US Navy is planning to deploy 68 Triton UAS with the manned P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to carry out surveillance missions.
Image: a Northrop-built MQ-4C Triton UAS during its flight. Photo: courtesy of Alan Radecki.