The U.S. Navy and Boeing have successfully demonstrated air-to-air refuelling, using the MQ-25 T1 test UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to refuel another aircraft. The test flight marks the first time that an unmanned aircraft has been used to refuel another aircraft.
The MQ-25 T1 successfully extended the hose and drogue from its U.S. Navy-issued aerial refuelling 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 refuelling mission.
The F/A-18 test pilot initially flew in close formation behind the MQ-25 to ensure performance and stability prior to refuelling – a manoeuvre that required as little as 20 feet of separation between the MQ-25 T1 air vehicle and the F/A-18 refuelling 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 connect to the unmanned aircraft and receive the scheduled fuel offload.
This successful milestone follows 25 previous flights that tested both the aircraft and ARS aerodynamics across the flight envelope, as well as extensive simulations of aerial refuelling 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.
The Boeing-owned T1 test asset is a predecessor to the seven test aircraft Boeing is manufacturing under a 2018 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.
Rear Adm. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, commented: “This team of professionals was integral in the successful flight. 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.”
Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said: “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. Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defense operations.”