A plane called the MQ-25 Stingray rolled down the MidAmerica Airport strip outside of St. Louis on June 4 before soaring into the sky. It was quickly followed by a Navy F / A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter.
They were found at about 10,000 feet. The Navy test pilots on the Super Hornet wanted to make sure there were no problems with the Stingray before they got too close.
After all, the Stingray is a drone and its “pilot” was still on the ground.
After an initial dry test, the Super Hornet extended a fuel probe and came a little closer to the Stingray until both planes made contact. Approximately 300 pounds of fuel were transferred from one to the other.
“This historic flight was the first time that an aircraft received fuel from an unmanned aerial vehicle,” Navy Capt. Chad Reed told reporters on Monday.
Navy officials say the unmanned MQ-25 Stingray, which is currently being tested by Boeing, will eventually take over the aerial refueling mission for aircraft carriers, potentially expanding the range and versatility of some of the most sophisticated fighters in the country.
“It will provide a critical refueling capability that expands the range, operational capability, and lethality of the carrier’s air wing and carrier strike group,” said Captain Reed, who oversees the Office of Strike Arms and Aviation No. Navy manned.
After the initial fuel transfer, the Stingray continued to climb. At 15,000 feet, the ground operator instructed the drone to unroll its fuel line. The Super Hornet again extended its probe and successfully connected, transferring about 25 pounds of fuel.
“Seeing the MQ-25 … powering an F / A-18 is a significant and exciting moment for the Navy and shows concrete progress toward realizing the capabilities of the MQ-25 for the fleet,” Capt. Reed said.
Navy F-18 pilots are used to getting their fuel from modified Super Hornets, where they had to position themselves directly behind the fighter’s powerful twin engines to connect. It was a bit quieter on June 4 for the Navy pilots who tested the Stingray.
“They could actually have a conversation in the cockpit,” said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director. “It went very well. There were very favorable comments from our drivers. “
Navy officials said the MQ-25 will be the world’s first carrier-based operational drone. Along with aerial refueling, they envision it for reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
The next few months will be spent carefully analyzing the data from the June 4 flight along with further testing. Navy officers hope to load the Stingray onto an aircraft carrier before the end of the year to test how it maneuvers on a flight deck.
“At this time, we will immediately resume the test flights that we have been conducting,” said Captain Reed. “We still have data that we want to collect from both the engine and the aerodynamic performance” of the drone.