Boeing MQ-25 aerial refueler makes first test flight with fuel store

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Boeing and the US Navy have for the first time flown the MQ-25 drone with an aerial refueling store as part of its development of an unmanned aerial refueler.

The successful 2.5-hour flight, which Boeing called a significant milestone, was conducted with a Cobham aerial refueling store (ARS).

The MQ-25 Stingray first flew during September 2019 and has been in development for more than ten years as a drone to be used from the US Navy’s aircraft carriers initially with a strike and reconnaissance capability and now for refuelling F/A-18s and other carrier-based aircraft.  A single prototype, the T1 test asset has so far been developed.

The Cobham ARS is the same currently used by F/A-18s for air-to-air refueling – was designed to test the aircraft’s aerodynamics with the ARS mounted under the wing. The flight was conducted by Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois.

Captain Chad Reed, the US Navy’s unmanned carrier aviation program manager said, “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.

“T1 will continue to yield valuable early insights as we begin flying with F/A-18s and conduct deck handling testing aboard a carrier.”

Future flights will continue to test the aerodynamics of the aircraft and the ARS at various points of the flight envelope, eventually progressing to extension and retraction of the hose and drogue used for refueling.

Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director said, “To see T1 fly with the hardware and software that makes MQ-25 an aerial refueler this early in the program is a visible reminder of the capability we’re bringing to the carrier deck.

“We’re ensuring the ARS and the software operating it will be ready to help MQ-25 extend the range of the carrier air wing.”

The Boeing-owned T1 test asset is a predecessor to the engineering development model aircraft being produced under a 2018 contract award. T1 is being used for early learning and discovery to move rapidly into development and test of the MQ-25m said Boeing.

T1 had  accumulated around 30 hours in the air during the year before the planned modification to install the ARS.

Earlier this year the US Navy exercised an option to acquire three additional MQ-25 air vehicles, bringing the total aircraft Boeing is initially producing to seven. The Navy intends to procure more than 70 aircraft, which will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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