The Boeing MQ-25 program successfully conducted the first ever aerial refueling operations between a manned receiver aircraft and unmanned tanker June 4 from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois. This successful flight demonstrated that the MQ-25 Stingray can fulfill its tanker mission using the Navy’s standard probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method. During the flight, the receiver U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet approached the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset, conducted a formation evaluation, wake survey, drogue tracking and then plugged with the unmanned aircraft. T1 then successfully transferred fuel from its Aerial Refueling Store (ARS) to the F/A-18. Testing with T1 will continue over the next several months to include flight envelope expansion, engine testing, and deck handling demonstrations aboard an aircraft carrier later this year.
“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, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office (PMA-268). “Seeing the MQ-25 fulfilling its primary tasking today, fueling an 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.”
“This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts,” said Rear Adm. Brian Corey who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “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.”
The test flight will provide important early data on airwake interactions, as well as guidance and control, Reed said. The team will analyze that data to determine if any adjustments are needed and make software updates early, with no impact to the program’s test schedule. The MQ-25A 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.
The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray is an aerial refueling drone that resulted from the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) program, which grew out of the earlier Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. The MQ-25 first flew on 19 September 2019. Boeing’s MQ-25 design is powered by one Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine delivering 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) of thrust; it is a variant of the engine used to power the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton. The aircraft is less stealthy than flying wing UAVs. It does feature a stealthy fuselage shaping, flush inlet to shield engine blades from radar and V-tail. As of 2020 the United States Navy plans to establish Unmanned Carrier Launched Multi-Role Squadron 10 (VUQ-10) in October 2021 with “four Engineering and Manufacturing examples of the MQ-25A”.