The U.S. Navy made history by refueling an airborne manned jet with an unmanned tanker drone.
A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet took off from the the MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois for a roughly four-hour flight last week in the history-making attempt.
NAVAIR stated of the refueling by the unmanned air vehicle (UAV): “During the flight, the receiver Navy F/A-18 [Super] Hornet approached the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset, conducted a formation evaluation, wake survey, drogue tracking and then plugged with the unmanned aircraft. T1 then successfully transferred fuel from its Aerial Refueling Store (ARS) to the F/A-18. 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.”
USNI News reports that 325 pounds of fuel was supplied to the fighter jet.
Rear Adm. Brian Corey, the program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, stated, “This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts. MQ-25 will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing — equipping our aircraft carriers with additional assets well into the future,” Military.com noted.
Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director, told USNI News, “People always ask us why don’t you just make more T1s and get on with the show. It’s exactly this area we’re spending the time and energy necessary to put in the corrosion control and all the details necessary to be carrier suitable.”
Navy unmanned carrier aviation program manager Capt. Chad Reed added:
T1 again has been a tremendous asset for the U.S. Navy and for Boeing for us to learn early, but we don’t have plans to continue [with] it as we move into the next phase of testing with the EDM – the engineering development models – as we move forward with the Navy test aircraft. We will take T1 aboard the flight deck of a carrier in port and test out another vital part of our program. That’s the deck control device.
The Navy still has the vision of moving towards common control standards and systems. This ground control station does provide us the flexibility to, in theory, control other assets in the future. It won’t be able to do it on day one, but we at least have an architecture now that supports that future growth.
The MQ-25A Stingray can transport as much as 15,000 pounds of fuel, The Daily Mail reported.
“The demonstration of the MQ-25 passing fuel to the F/A-18F moves the USN one step closer to refuelling operations using UAVs. The U.S. Department of Defense has been developing, testing and refining the process for years. In 2012, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency demonstrated a Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk refuelling another RQ-4A at high altitude. In 2015, the USN’s Northrop X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration aircraft autonomously refuelled from an Omega Boeing K-707 tanker,” FlightGlobal noted.
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