As we reported earlier, Boeing MQ-25 Stingray Tanker Drone refuels Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye command and control aircraft for the first time. Now according to the U.S. Navy, the service in partnership with Boeing has successfully carried out aerial refueling of F-35 fighter jet using an unmanned aircraft for the first time.
The Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) program completed its first aerial refueling of an F-35C Lightning II aircraft by the Boeing-owned MQ-25 test asset, known as T1, as part of the Navy’s broader initiative to field unmanned systems that transform and enhance the fleet’s capability, capacity and lethality.
The integrated Navy and Boeing MQ-25 team, in coordination with the F-35 program, conducted the refueling flight on Sept. 13 near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois.
“Every T1 flight with another Type/Model/Series aircraft gets us one step closer to rapidly delivering a fully mission-capable MQ-25 to the fleet,” said Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s PMA-268 program manager.
“Stingray’s unmatched refueling capability is going to increase the Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the carrier strike group commanders.”
This event marked the third refueling flight for the T1 test aircraft. During the three-hour flight, a Navy F-35C pilot from Air Test Wing and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) approached T1, performed formation evaluations, wake surveys, drogue tracking, and plugged with the MQ-25 test asset at 225 knots calibrated airspeed (KCAS) and altitude of 10,000 feet. From the ground control station, an air vehicle operator then initiated the fuel transfer from T1’s aerial refueling store to the F-35C.
Once operational, MQ-25 will refuel every receiver-capable carrier-based aircraft. Each unique aircraft platform will have a different aerodynamic interaction in the wake of MQ-25.
Conducting refueling test missions with various aircraft allows the program to analyze data and determine if any adjustments to guidance and control are required.
The MQ-25 will be the first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft and will provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to support the Air Wing of the Future – a mix of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft, manned and unmanned platforms, and netted sensors and weapons.
Along with organic tanking, the MQ-25 will pave the way for manned and unmanned teaming (MUM-T) of carrier-based aircraft that will extend the strike range and enhance maneuverability. As unmanned tanking capacity increases, the manned tanker requirement decreases, promoting additional service life and capacity available for manned strike-fighter missions.