For the first time in history, the U.S. Navy and Boeing have demonstrated air-to-air refueling using an unmanned aircraft to refuel another aircraft.
During a test flight June 4, the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset successfully extended the hose and drogue from its Navy-issued aerial refueling store and safely transferred jet fuel to a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, demonstrating the MQ-25 Stingray's ability to carry out its primary aerial refueling mission.
"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,” said Navy Rear Adm. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.
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.
The MQ-25 T1 will continue flight testing prior to being shipped to Norfolk, Va., for deck handling trials aboard a Navy carrier later this year.