U.S. Navy Testing Autonomous Refueling Drone

Boeing MQ-25 5 photos
Photo: Boeing
Boeing MQ-25Boeing MQ-25Boeing MQ-25Boeing MQ-25
Aerial refueling is one of the most spectacular and dangerous maneuvers planes can execute. While it may seem new, the procedure dates back to 1923, when two piloted bi-planes of the U.S. Army Air Service met up in the sky and passed fuel from one to another. The future, however, will have nothing to do with bi-planes and humans.
Back in 2018, Boeing was awarded a contract for the development of an autonomous aircraft capable of refueling military airplanes mid-flight. The product of that contract is the MQ-25, a drone that first flew at the end of last year.

Fast forward to today, and the aerospace company announced another major step forward. The MQ-25, designated T1, flew for the first time with an aerial refueling store (ARS) attached – for the record, that’s the external pod where the fuel for the other planes is stored.

The ARS used for this test flight is the same presently being deployed on the F/A-18s for air-to-air refueling – that’s because when ready, the MQ-25 is supposed to relieve these planes from their roles as air refuelers.

The drone did not run autonomously this time, but was flown by pilots from a ground control station. The test lasted for 2.5 hours, as engineers were trying to assess the drone’s aerodynamics with the ARS mounted under the wing.

“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 in a statement Capt. 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.”

Boeing made no mention on when we should expect the fully functional, autonomous drone to be ready. When that happens, the Navy plans to buy over 70 of them.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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