Boeing and the U.S. Navy successfully refueled an airborne F/A-18 Super Hornet with an MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aircraft system (UAS/drone) last Friday. The demonstration is the first-ever air-to-air refueling to be conducted using a UAS tanker to supply a crewed aircraft. According to Boeing, the test aircraft flew 25 flights prior to Friday’s attempt to “test aircraft and ARS [aerial refueling store] aerodynamics across the flight envelope.”
“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,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security CEO Leanne Caret. “Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defense operations.”
The Navy reports that data gathered from Friday’s flight, including information on airwake interactions, guidance and control, will be analyzed and used to determine if the MQ-25 demonstrator needs any adjustments before further testing. The flight was conducted at MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, where testing is expected to continue over the next several months. The MQ-25 test aircraft is scheduled to go to Norfolk, Virginia, for deck handling trials on a Navy carrier later this year.