Flying High: Triton team readies for unmanned aircraft’s cross-country flight

By Captain Jim Hoke
Triton UAS Program Manager

This week, for the first time, we will fly our unmanned MQ-4C Triton cross-country to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, where the “future of naval aviation begins.”

For months, our team, comprised of military, civilian and contractor personnel, has been doing a phenomenal job making sure every detail is in place for this historic day.

Triton infographic

As a program manager, it is an extraordinary opportunity to see the team’s hard work come to fruition. Last year, I had the privilege of watching Triton’s first flight. Since then, I’ve observed tremendous success with our initial envelope expansion flight tests and now I’m anticipating its landing here shortly.

For me, my connection to this team and program goes well beyond my three years as program manager.  In January 2006, I was serving as the final commodore at Wing FIVE in Brunswick, Maine. During that time, Wing FIVE executed the first-ever operational deployment of the Navy’s Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration Unmanned Aircraft System, now known as BAMS-Demonstrator (BAMS-D). While providing critical information to warfare commanders, BAMS-D also provided critical lessons learned for a future unmanned platform, then named BAMS. At the time, I didn’t anticipate the stake I’d have in the program someday.

Now, finally five years later, here I am getting ready for the arrival of that ‘future system’, now formally named Triton. I will be eagerly waiting the MQ-4C take off from Northrop Grumman’s California facility. As it makes its way across the country, flying high at altitudes in excess of 50,000 feet while passing through the southern U.S. border, the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida and up the Atlantic Coast and Chesapeake Bay, we will monitor and control the flight from our Navy System Integration Lab here in Pax River. In the early hours of the morning, our team will watch it land on the runway and taxi into its new hangar for the first time.

Triton’s arrival to Pax River marks more than a key milestone on the path to initial operational capability; it represents the tireless work and dedication of a collection of individuals with a common goal in mind: critical capability development and delivery to the warfighter. Teamed with its manned-capability counterpart, the P-8A, Triton will be a key component of the Navy’s family of systems to achieve maritime domain awareness.

We are bringing the future here. This ferry flight marks the start of testing that will ready this system for the fleet in the next few years. The work being done by our team here is far from trivial.

Each one of our team members should reflect on the hard work that has gone into this effort and realize what they are contributing to our future warfighter. As always, it’s an honor to be part of this phenomenal team.

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Flying High: Triton team readies for unmanned aircraft’s cross-country flight