On Jun. 4, the MQ-25 Stingray became the first unmanned aircraft to refuel another aircraft, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet.
The US Navy and Boeing have completed a second carrier-based aircraft unmanned refueling mission with the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset, this time refueling a Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye command and control aircraft.
During a test flight from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport on Aug. 18, 2021 pilots from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-20 conducted a successful wake survey behind MQ-25 T1 to ensure performance and stability before making contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue. The E-2D received fuel from T1’s aerial refueling store during the flight.
“Once operational the MQ-25 will refuel every receiver-capable platform, including E-2,” said Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager, in a Boeing News Release. “This flight keeps us on a fast track to getting the Stingray out to the fleet where its refueling capability will greatly increase the range and operational flexibility of the carrier air wing and strike group.”
The MQ-25 Stingray will be assigned to the carrier airborne early warning squadron within the carrier air wing, which currently operates the E-2 C/D aircraft – known as the “digital quarterback” of the fleet for its role in joint battle management and command and control.
Actually the Stingray will be the world’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft and provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that greatly expand the global reach, operational flexibility and lethality of the carrier air wing and carrier strike group. The MQ-25 is foundational to the Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework and is the first step toward a future fleet augmented by unmanned systems to pace the evolving challenges of the 21st century.
“It was another great flight showing that our MQ-25 design is performing to plan,” said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director. “These historic refueling flights provide an incredible amount of data we feed back into the MQ-25 digital models to ensure the aircraft we’re producing will be the Navy’s game-changer for the carrier air wing.”
This is the second aerial refueling mission the MQ-25 team has conducted this summer. On Jun. 4, the MQ-25 T1 test asset became the first unmanned aircraft to refuel another aircraft, a US Navy Super Hornet. Both flights were conducted at operationally relevant speeds and altitudes, with the E-2D and F/A-18 performing maneuvers in close proximity to T1.
Boeing is currently manufacturing the first two of seven MQ-25 test aircraft and two ground test articles currently under contract. The Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset is a predecessor to these aircraft. The MQ-25 is leveraging advancements in model-based digital engineering and design, and ongoing flights are intended to test aircraft design and performance much earlier than traditional programs.
Photo credit: Boeing