A Boeing drone made history on Friday by becoming the first unmanned aircraft to refuel another aircraft in midair.
During the air-to-air refueling test flight on June 4, the Boeing MQ-25 T1 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.
According to The Boeing-owned T1 test asset is a predecessor to the seven test aircraft Boeing is manufacturing under a 2018 US Navy 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.
During the initial part of the flight on June 4, the F/A-18 test pilot flew in close formation behind MQ-25 to ensure performance and stability prior to refueling.
This maneuver required as little as 20 feet of separation between the MQ-25 T1 air vehicle and the F/A-18 refueling probe, and 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 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.
Drawing light on this historic air-to-air refueling endeavor, Rear Adm. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, commended the Boeing and Navy team responsible for the successful flight.
He further stated that they would continue working side-by-side with Boeing over the next few years to deliver this capability that could greatly enhance the future carrier air wing.
Image and content: Kevin Flynn/Boeing