Boeing announced that the MQ-25 T1 tanker drone performed an aerial refueling for the first time in history. The unmanned aircraft performed a coordinated flight with a US Navy F/A-18 fighter on Friday that received fuel from the test model.
Dubbed the Stingray, the MQ-25 is part of a program the US Navy launched over the past decade to replace the Hornet itself as an airborne refueling aircraft.
During the flight, the drone remained about 20 feet away from the fighter. After aligning their trajectories, the MQ-25 extended the drogue and the F/A-18 pilot moved in to “plug” with the unmanned aircraft and received the scheduled fuel offload.
“This history-making event is a credit to our joint Boeing and Navy team that is all-in delivering on MQ-25’s critical aerial refueling capability to the fleet as soon as possible,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defense operations.”
The milestone comes after 25 MQ-25 flights started in September 2019. Boeing is assembling another six test planes that will be used in the wake of the development program, on board an aircraft carrier at the end of 2021.
The Navy plans to begin operation of the MQ-25 from 2024. The unmanned aircraft will release F/A-18 fighters to perform combat missions only.
The MQ-25A can deliver up to 15,000 lb (6800 kg) of fuel over a distance of 500 nm (926 km). The subsonic jet is powered by a Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine with over 10,000 lbs of thrust.