Your Navy

2015 outlook: Aviation milestones

Naval aviation's manned and unmanned planes are set for a number of milestones in the next year:

MQ-4C. All three of the Navy's MQ-4C Triton aircraft are at Pax River as of Dec. 22, Naval Air Systems Command spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove said. Triton, designed to augment ocean maritime search to boost that already done by manned aircraft like P-3s and P-8s, will begin sensor testing in the new year, and an operational assessment is planned for early summer 2015.

X-47B. The Navy's unmanned fighter jet made its first carrier launches and traps in the pattern with other jets this year, and in June the Navy awarded a contract to continue research and development in 2015. "If resources allow, the Navy may demonstrate autonomous engagement flight testing in fiscal year 2015," Cosgrove said.

F-35C. The Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II jet had a big year in 2014, completing its first carrier catapults and traps aboard Nimitz in November. In 2015, the Navy plans to buy two more of the jets, bringing the total to 28.

"[There's] still a lot of work with the software development, the integration of the sensors in F-35C," Buss, the Navy's air boss, told Navy Times in December. "But if you look at where we were a year or so ago and the challenges with the tail hook design, clearly that redesign is working well and we had absolutely no issues out on board."

Though earlier plans had the F-35C operational in 2015, the outlook now is to field them in 2018.

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