The U.S. Navy has announced it has successfully conducted its first-ever aerial refueling between a manned aircraft and an unmanned tanker on June 4th. The test involved a Boeing-owned MQ-25 Stingray test vehicle refueling a Navy F/A-18E-F Super Hornet in midair, DefenseNews reported on Monday.
“This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts. MQ-25 will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing, equipping our aircraft carriers with additional assets well into the future,” commented Rear Adm. Brian Corey, executive program officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.
During the successful test, the Super Hornet came within 20 feet of the unmanned MQ-26 T1 test vehicle and first conducted a formation evaluation and wake survey to measure the conditions before starting the fuel transfer. After the measurements were recorded, the MQ-25 extended its drogue and supplied the Hornet with fuel.
The MQ-25 will operate from aircraft carriers once it is fielded. It will refuel air wing operations at sea, relieving the Super Hornet fleet of the tanking mission, which can take up more than one-third of Super Hornet flight hours during carrier air wing operations.
The Navy and Boeing will analyze the test data and make any necessary software updates as the MQ-25 testing schedule continues in the coming months.
“This is our mission: an unmanned aircraft that frees our strike fighters from the tanker role and provides the Carrier Air Wing with greater range, flexibility and capability,” said Capt. Chad Reed, the program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office.
“Seeing the MQ-25 fulfilling its primary tasking today, fueling a F/A-18, is a significant and exciting moment for the Navy and shows concrete progress toward realizing MQ-25′s capabilities for the fleet,” added Reed.