Triton: Flying high, flying low

Maritime ops drive naval drone features

Northrop Grumman is about to start producing Triton unmanned intelligence planes for the U.S. Navy after eight years of research and test flights.The similar Air Force Global Hawks watch targets from placid high altitudes, but Tritons must also dip below the clouds to study suspicious vessels. This requirement drove some design differences.

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MQ-4C Triton

  • Engine: Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan. Popular for business jets. Same engine as Global Hawks.
  • Steerable video camera: Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting System-B. Also flown on Air Force Predator drones.
  • Reinforced wings protect against low-altitude hazards, including bird strikes, hail and wind gusts. Electric de-icing coils heat leading edges and also tail.
  • Inlet: Redesigned to prevent icing.
  • Radar: Northrop Grumman Multi-Function Active Sensor for all-weather detection.
  • Sierra Nevada Corp. electronic support measures system detects signals emitted by vessels.
  • Saab automatic identification system, or AIS, to track and identify ships — even if they have turned off their AIS broadcasts.
  • UHF-VHF radio antennas.
The Triton unmanned aircraft system completes its first flight May 22, 2013 from the Northrop Grumman manufacturing facility in Palmdale, Calif. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Triton: Flying high, flying low