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Unmanned aircraft to join air traffic at NAS Whidbey

North Whidbey skies are expected to see unmanned Navy aircraft flying by 2016.

Four MQ-4C Triton drones will be based out of Ventura County Naval Base in California, but the existing P3 tactical support center at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will be expanded to support both the P-8A and the Triton, according Ted Brown, installations and environmental public affairs officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

The Triton is expected to supplement the P-8A Poseidon in patrol missions, and is expected to be operational at NAS Whidbey by 2015-2016, Brown said.

The Triton is a multiple-sensor, unarmed, unmanned aircraft system that is approximately 48 feet long and has a wingspan of approximately 131 feet, according to a Navy executive summary on the drone project. The Triton will provide continuous maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data collection and dissemination capability to remain in flight up to 24 hours per day.

The Triton UAS is a complement to the Navy’s P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, and uses the same tactical support centers as the P-8A aircraft.

The tactical support centers operate the command and control functions of both the P-8A aircraft and Triton UAS.

The result of environmental assessments determined that tactical support centers at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station would be installed to support the Triton along with the P8-A Posidons.

“The purpose of the proposed action is to enhance the ability to identify and process intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information for Joint Forces and Fleet Commanders during pre-mission planning, mission execution, and post-mission reporting,” the executive summary stated. “The Proposed Action is needed to provide continuous maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities in support of national defense objectives and policies.”

In other Navy news, the Association of Naval Aviation will be hosting a presentation next week on yet another unmanned aircraft being explored by the Navy.

The X-47B, which is not expected to be rolled out until 2020, is the first unmanned aircraft to successfully land and take off from an aircraft carrier. The home-basing and use of this aircraft has yet to be determined.

“Never before have they been launched and recovered from an aircraft carrier,” said Howard Gulley, treasurer for the Whidbey Island ANA. “This last summer the X-47 broke that barrier. From this achievement the specifications for a future carrier UAV is envisioned to supplement the manned carrier air wing by 2020.”

The presenter will be Buddy Storrs from the Northrop Grumman office who oversees the X-47B program. During his 29-year naval career he flew the A-6 and FA-18 and was the last A-6 skipper of VA-115 in Japan.

The public presentation was held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the Officer’s Club.

 

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