The Navy’s first MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft built by Northrop Grumman Corp.‘s division in Rancho Bernardo on Thursday completed a cross-country flight from California to Maryland.

The aircraft flew 11 hours from the Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale to Naval Air Station Patuxent River to start its next phase of testing, moving the program closer toward operational status.

During the flight, the aircraft was controlled from a ground station in Palmdale, which served as the forward operating base, and a Navy System Integration Lab at Patuxent River, which served as the main operating base.

“Triton is the Navy’s largest, most advanced unmanned maritime surveillance system to cross such a distance,” said Mike Mackey, Triton program director. “The successful flight was the result of a Navy/Northrop Grumman team effort, from finishing a major software package to managing equipment inspections.”

Over the next few weeks, two other Tritons, one of which is a demonstration aircraft owned by Northrop Grumman, will also fly to Patuxent River. Both will be used during system development and demonstration tests.

Triton is specifically designed for maritime missions of up to 24 hours. It can fly at altitudes higher than 10 miles, allowing for coverage of 1 million square nautical miles of ocean, in a single mission.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.