Boeing’s MQ-25 Unmanned Tanker Performs First Ever Aerial Refueling by a Drone

  • Our Bureau
  • 03:50 PM, June 7, 2021
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Boeing’s MQ-25 Unmanned Tanker Performs First Ever Aerial Refueling by a Drone
MQ-25 Unmanned aircraft refueling F/A-18 Super Hornet: Boeing image

A Boeing-owned MQ-25 unmanned ‘Stingray’ aerial tanker today refueled a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet making it the first time ever that air-to-air refueling was accomplished by an unmanned aircraft.

During a test flight June 4, MQ-25 T1 (test asset) successfully extended the hose and drogue from its U.S. Navy-issued aerial refueling store (ARS) and safely transferred jet fuel to a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, demonstrating the MQ-25 Stingray's ability to carry out its primary aerial refueling mission.

During the initial part of the flight, the F/A-18 test pilot flew in close formation behind MQ-25 to ensure performance and stability prior to refueling – a maneuver that required as little as 20 feet of separation between the MQ-25 T1 air vehicle and the F/A-18 refueling probe.

Both aircraft were flying at operationally relevant speeds and altitudes. With the evaluation safely completed, the MQ-25 drogue was extended, and the F/A-18 pilot moved in to "plug" with the unmanned aircraft and receive the scheduled fuel offload.

Said Rear Adm. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. "Over the next few years, we will work side-by-side with Boeing to deliver this capability that will greatly enhance the future carrier air wing."

The milestone comes after 25 T1 flights, testing both aircraft and ARS aerodynamics across the flight envelope, as well as extensive simulations of aerial refueling using MQ-25 digital models. MQ-25 T1 will continue flight testing prior to being shipped to Norfolk, Virginia, for deck handling trials aboard a U.S. Navy carrier later this year.

The Boeing-owned T1 test asset is a predecessor to the seven test aircraft Boeing is manufacturing under a 2018 contract award. The MQ-25 will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters and helping extend the range of the carrier air wing.

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