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MQ-25 Flies High for Autonomous Refueling

Dec. 30, 2020
The MQ-25 autonomous aircraft was recently tested for flight with the same refueling store used by the F/A-18 fighter for aerial refueling purposes.

Autonomous aerial refueling for the U.S. Navy took another step closer with the recent testing of an unmanned MQ-25 T1 air vehicle from Boeing with an aerial refueling store (ARS). The 2.5-hr flight was conducted with a Cobham ARS mounted under a wing of the MQ-25 (see figure), to determine the effects of the ARS on the aircraft’s aerodynamic behavior. The flight was controlled by Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport (Mascoutah, IL). The Cobham ARS is the same store used by F/A-18 fighter aircraft for air-to-air refueling.

“Having a test asset flying with an ARS gets us one big step closer in our evaluation of how MQ-25 will fulfill its primary mission in the fleet – aerial refueling,” said Captain Chad Reed, the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. “T1 will continue to yield valuable early insights as we begin flying with F/A-18s and conduct deck handling testing aboard a carrier.”

“To see T1 fly with the hardware and software that makes MQ-25 an aerial refueler this early in the program is a visible reminder of the capability we’re bringing to the carrier deck,” said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director. “We’re ensuring the ARS and the software operating it will be ready to help MQ-25 extend the range of the carrier air wing.” Boeing is learning a great deal about autonomous airflight from the MQ-25 test aircraft. The firm is producing seven MQ-25 aircraft as part of the Navy’s future autonomous in-air refueling plans. The Navy intends to procure more than 70 total aircraft capable of performing in-air tanking currently being performed by F/A-18 aircraft.

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