Northrop Grumman hopes to conduct the maiden flight of the first MQ-4C Triton unmanned air vehicle in the coming months.
Speaking to Flightglobal at the Avalon air show in Australia, Greg Miller, Triton UAS business development manager, says the first aircraft, SDD-1, could fly as soon as April.
Formerly known as BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance), the MQ-4C is tasked with partial replacement of the US Navy's Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, and will operate alongside the service's fleet of Boeing P-8A Poseidons.
Both Triton test aircraft, SDD-1 and SDD-2, are in the "final stages of testing," says Miller. They have completed taxi and ground tests, he adds.
"We're very close to the first flight [of SDD-1]," says Miller. "After this we'll go through envelope expansion flights and eventually, at the end of this year if everything goes as planned, the SDD aircraft will be delivered to the [US] navy's test area at Patuxent River in Maryland."
SDD-1 has no sensors fitted but is equipped to test aerodynamic loads and other aspects of the aircraft's flight envelope. Its sister aircraft, SDD-2, will eventually be kitted out with "some sensors," says Miller. The Triton's future multifunction active sensor radar is already being tested aboard another platform.
Northrop sees the MQ-4C as suitable for Phase 1B of Australia's AIR 7000 requirement for a multimission unmanned aerial system. It has displayed a full scale mock-up of the Triton at both the 2011 and 2013 Avalon air shows.