Boeing made a surprise announcement of the successful test flight of the new MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned aerial refueler.
Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based tanker drone test asset, known as T1, has flown for the first time at MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois. The company is developing the Stingray for the U.S. Navy and plans to continue testing T1 in the coming years as it works toward the first flight of a full engineering and manufacturing development prototype in 2021.
T1, short for “Tail 1,” which also carries the U.S. civil registration code N234MQ, conducted an autonomous taxi and takeoff and then flew an approximately two-hour-long predetermined route on Sept. 19, 2019.
Boeing test pilots oversaw the unmanned aircraft’s flight from a ground control station at MidAmerica Airport, where this complete initial flight test program will occur. The drone arrived at the airport, which is co-located with the U.S. Air Force’s Scott Air Force Base, in April 2019. Boeing had conducted a variety of ground tests at its St. Louis plant before that.
The U.S. aerospace giant said its revolutionary MQ-25 Stingray had successfully flown for two-hour flight under the direction of Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., where the test program is based.
— Boeing Defense (@BoeingDefense) September 19, 2019
The aircraft completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff and then flew a pre-determined route to validate the aircraft’s basic flight functions and operations with the ground control station.
“Seeing MQ-25 in the sky is a testament to our Boeing and Navy team working the technology, systems and processes that are helping get MQ-25 to the carrier,” said Boeing MQ-25 Program Director Dave Bujold. “This aircraft and its flight test program ensures we’re delivering the MQ-25 to the carrier fleet with the safety, reliability and capability the U.S. Navy needs to conduct its vital mission.”
The Boeing-owned test asset is a predecessor to the engineering development model (EDM) aircraft and is being used for early learning and discovery to meet the goals of the U.S. Navy’s accelerated acquisition program. Boeing will produce four EDM MQ-25 air vehicles for the U.S. Navy under an $805 million contract awarded in August 2018.
The MQ-25 will provide the Navy with a much-needed carrier-based unmanned aerial refueling capability. It will allow for better use of the combat strike fighters currently performing the tanking role and will extend the range of the carrier air wing.
“Today’s flight is an exciting and significant milestone for our program and the Navy,” said the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) Program Manager Capt. Chad Reed. “The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders.”
T1 received its experimental airworthiness certificate from the FAA in September, verifying that the air vehicle meets the agency’s requirements for safe flight. Testing will continue with T1 to further early learning and discovery that advances major systems and software development.
The MQ-25 could have a revolutionary impact on the Navy’s carrier air wings and how they conduct operations. It will also ease the strain on the service’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, which presently spend considerable flight hours acting as small tankers for other carrier-based aircraft.