Navy tanker drone makes history by refueling manned aircraft for the first time

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US Navy makes history as unmanned tanker drone refuels a jet fighter for the first time

  • The Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was connected in the air to Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone and transferred 325 pounds of fuel to the fighter jet
  • It took place Friday near MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois
  • Footage shows the moment the Super Hornet connected to the stingray’s hose and received the jet fuel
  • The two planes came up to 6 meters close to each other while refueling
  • Using the unmanned drone to refuel fighter jets will free up naval personnel otherwise tasked with refueling aircraft for other operations

The US Navy made history last week when an unmanned tank drone first refueled a manned jet in mid-air, freeing fighters from the roll.

The Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was connected in the air to Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone and transferred 325 pounds of fuel to the fighter jet, the Navy said Monday.

Captivating footage shows the historic moment when the aerial refueling was successfully performed on Friday during the approximately 4.5-hour test flight.

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The US Navy made history last week when an unmanned tank drone first refueled a manned jet in mid-air, freeing fighters from the roll.  Photo of the flight

The US Navy made history last week when an unmanned tank drone first refueled a manned jet in mid-air, freeing fighters from the roll. Photo of the flight

The Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was connected in the air to Boeing's MQ-25 Stingray drone and transferred 325 pounds of fuel to the fighter jet, the Navy said Monday.

The Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was connected in the air to Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone and transferred 325 pounds of fuel to the fighter jet, the Navy said Monday.

Captivating footage shows the historic moment when the air refueling was successfully performed on Friday during the approximately 4.5-hour test flight

Captivating footage shows the historic moment when the air refueling was successfully performed on Friday during the approximately 4.5-hour test flight

The Super Hornet is seen taking off from the MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, and approaching the Stingray with a snake descending from the back.

The Super Hornet then connects to the drogue at the end of the hose.

The two aircraft come as close as 6 meters to each other as the aircraft receives the fuel from the aerial refueling store (ARS) of the drone.

Both aircraft flew at speeds and altitudes that matched those in the field.

The Navy said it will analyze the data from the flight to determine if changes need to be made to the software.

The MQ-25A Stingray will be the world’s first operational unmanned aerial vehicle on a carrier.

It can carry up to 15,000 pounds of fuel and will provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

The unmanned Boeing MQ-25 T1 Stingray test aircraft takes off from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois

The unmanned Boeing MQ-25 T1 Stingray test aircraft takes off from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois

The Super Hornet's manned jet takes off and heads for the Stingray

The Super Hornet’s manned jet takes off and heads for the Stingray

Using the unmanned drone to refuel fighter jets also has the benefit of freeing up naval personnel otherwise tasked with refueling aircraft for other operations.

Boeing and the Navy said they plan to conduct further air-to-air refueling tests on an aircraft carrier later this year.

admin. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, said the flight’s success also paves the way for future “teaming concepts” with manned and unmanned aircraft.

“This flight lays the groundwork for integration into the carrier environment, opening up more opportunities for manned-unmanned teaming concepts,” he said in a statement.

“MQ-25 will significantly increase the range and durability of the future aviation wing, enabling our aircraft carriers to be equipped with additional resources well into the future.”

The drone has a hose that comes out the back.  The Super Hornet connects to the drogue at the end of the hose to receive the fuel from its Aerial Refueling Store (ARS).

The drone has a hose that comes out the back. The Super Hornet connects to the drogue at the end of the hose to receive the fuel from its Aerial Refueling Store (ARS).

Captain Chad Reed, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program Office, called it an “important and exciting moment for the Navy.”

“This is our mission, an unmanned aerial vehicle that frees our attack fighters from the role of tanker, and gives the Carrier Air Wing greater range, flexibility and capability,” he said, adding that it “shows concrete progress towards realizing the capabilities of the MQ-25 for The Fleet.’

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret called Friday’s flight a “historic event.”

“This historic event is a tribute to our joint Boeing and Navy team who are committed to delivering the MQ-25’s critical airborne tank capability to the fleet as quickly as possible,” she said.

“Their work is the driving force behind the secure integration of unmanned systems in the near future of defense operations.”

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