The US Navy and Boeing made aviation history on 4 June, when an unmanned MQ-25 STINGRAY UAS refuelled a USN F/A-18 SUPER HORNET in the first ever refuelling of a manned aircraft by an unmanned platform.

"This team of professionals was integral in the successful flight," commented Rear Adm Brian Corey, at the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.  "Over the next few years, we will work side-by-side with Boeing to deliver this capability that will greatly enhance the future carrier air wing."

"This history-making event is a credit to our joint Boeing and Navy team that is all-in on delivering MQ-25's critical aerial refuelling capability to the fleet as soon as possible," added 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."

As little as 20 feet separated the two aircraft during the test flight, which was conducted at “operationally relevant speeds and altitudes.” The milestone comes after 25 flights from the MQ-25 T1 test air vehicle, testing both aircraft and refuelling system aerodynamics across the flight envelope, as well as extensive simulations of aerial refuelling using MQ-25 digital models. The T1 will continue flight testing prior to being shipped to Norfolk, VA, for deck handling trials aboard a USN carrier later this year.

For a video of the refuelling test, click here


Boeing is manufacturing seven additional STINGRAYs under a 2018 contract award. The MQ-25 will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of combat strike fighters and helping to extend the range of the carrier air wing. (Photo: Boeing)

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