ST. LOUIS - The U.S. Navy and Boeing demonstrated air-to-air refueling using an unmanned aircraft for the first time in history. The milestone occurred on June 4 when the Boeing-owned MQ-25™ T1 test asset refueled another aircraft.
During a test flight, MQ-25 Stingray 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.
The initial part of the flight required the F/A-18 test pilot to fly in close formation behind MQ-25 to ensure performance and stability prior to refueling. The maneuver 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.
“This history-making event is a credit to our joint Boeing and Navy team that is all-in on delivering MQ-25's critical aerial refueling capability to the fleet as soon as possible,” Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said. “Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defense operations.”
The achievement follows 25 T1 flights to test aircraft and ARS aerodynamics across the flight envelope. It also evaluated extensive simulations of aerial refueling using MQ-25 digital models.
MQ-25 T1 will continue flight testing prior to being shipped to Norfolk, Va. for deck-handling trials aboard a U.S. Navy carrier later this year.
MQ-25 is a trademark of the Department of the Navy.