Boeing and the U.S. Navy have completed an air-to-air fuel transfer mission that demonstrated the capability of a company-built unmanned aircraft system to conduct aerial refueling in support of another aircraft, and marked the first time such activity was performed.
The demonstration involved the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset and a U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jet and showcased the Stingray offloading fuel to the Super Hornet from an aerial refueling store provided by the service branch, the company said Monday.
The MQ-25 carrier-based drone is planned to assume the F/A-18 aircraft’s tanking role to enable the Navy to use the combat strike fighters in other missions.
Rear Adm. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, said the unmanned aircraft refueling capability is expected to enhance the range of the carrier air wing in the future.
Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing’s defense, space and security business and a 2021 Wash100 awardeee, has attributed the milestone to a team consisting of company and Navy representatives. “Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defense operations,” she said.
The team conducted 25 T1 test flights prior to the June 4 demonstration to evaluate the aircraft and ARS aerodynamics. Digital models of MQ-25 were also used to simulate aerial refueling activities.
Boeing received a potential $805.3 million contract in 2018 for the manufacturing of unmanned aerial refuelers. Later in 2021, MQ-25 T1 will undergo deck handling tests aboard a Navy carrier.