Greek mythology tells the story of Triton, a sea-god and the son of Poseidon.
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., made history June 14, 2012, as they celebrated the roll out of the true sea-god, the MQ-4C Triton.
The Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System is a maritime derivative of the RQ-4 Global Hawk that will provide the Navy with an advanced autonomous air vehicle mission control system for maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
“Today marks a major milestone for the MQ-4C BAMS program,” said Gary Ervin, president of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, “that’s attributed to the hard work and dedication of many of the professionals who collaborated across the United States Navy and the BAMS industry team … BAMS is the future of maritime global intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance.”
According to the Navy, there will eventually be 70 aircraft in the BAMS program, the first two of which are systems development and demonstration aircraft that are being produced currently by Northrop. The MQ-4C unveiled last week is SDD-1, the first of these. While the Triton is part of the Northrop Grumman Q-4 family of aircraft, it has some very distinctive differences that set it apart from it Global Hawk brethren. The first is a multi-function active sensor radar attached to the belly of the aircraft. Sitting in a dome-shaped radome which visually distinguishes the MQ-4C from the RQ- 4B Global Hawk, MFAS will provide a 360-degree sweep in both maritime and air-to-ground modes.
The aircraft’s other major distinguishing characteristic is a ball-turret located under the nose of the aircraft housing high-grade still and full-motion video camera capabilities. The cameras are electro-optical and infrared, which will assist in auto-target tracking.
Other modifications have also been made to meet the unique requirements of foreseen for this Navy aircraft which include anti/de-ice on the engine inlet and wing leading edges, as well as bird strike and lightning protection. The Triton will also be the first of the Q-4 family to use a “due regard” sensor system for detecting other air traffic, giving the aircraft the ability to interoperate with other aircraft in the same general airspace.
According to a Navy spokesperson, the production line for the aircraft will begin at Moss Point, Miss., with final assembly for all of the BAMS aircraft being completed at Northrop’s Palmdale Manufacturing Center.
Steve “Smiley” Enewold, vice president and program manager BAMS UAS added that, “Here in Palmdale we’re going to have a combined Global Hawk and BAMS line and also the NATO AGS … There’s about 60 people that actually put the airplanes together and then there’s a whole cast of engineering support, logistics support and those kind of things, and those assets are shared across different programs.”
Emmitt Adams, an electrical technician at Northrop Grumman said that the program is going to be “great” for Palmdale because it means keeping people employed and keeping Palmdale “happy.”
“It’s a proud day for us, we’ve put a lot of hard work into this and it’s nice to see the fruit of our labor really become unveiled today,” said Jeff Zicker, Mechanic Lead for the Global Hawk program. Technician Joseph Arroyo added that, “it’s an exciting day for the future of naval aviation.”
The Triton has a wingspan of 130.9 feet, which is wider than that of a 737 commercial airliner. It can reach an altitude of 56,500 feet and travel at 331 knots for up to 24 hours at a time. Its maximum internal payload is 3,200 pounds, with an external payload of 2,400 pounds.
According to Enewold, the Triton and the Navy’s new P-8A Poseidon “have the ability to communicate between each other both on normal radio frequencies and then also with data links.” He also added that the Triton will be able to pass information to the ground station for review which can then be forwarded to the Poseidon.
The first flight of the MQ-4C is scheduled for later this year and the Initial Operational Capability is scheduled for 2015.
“As I thought about our commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway,” said the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mark Ferguson, “a turning point in the history of naval aviation, I was struck by what this aircraft would mean for the future of our long-range persistent surveillance [and how it will] transform the nature of warfare at sea. In this complex environment and the vast distances we will face at sea … awareness in the battle front will determine victory or defeat.”