Boeing and the US Navy have demonstrated the first-ever aerial refuelling between a manned and unmanned aircraft.
During the test flight, the MQ-25 T1 test asset successfully extended the hose and drogue from its US Navy-issued aerial refuelling store to safely transfer jet fuel to the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons supervisor rear admiral Brian Corey said: “This team of professionals was integral in the successful flight.
“Over the next few years, we will work side-by-side with Boeing to deliver this capability that will greatly enhance the future carrier air wing.”
Boeing noted that the successful milestone was achieved following 25 previous flights that tested both the aircraft and aerial refuelling store’s aerodynamics across the flight envelope.
Extensive simulations of aerial refuelling using MQ-25 digital models also contributed to the achievement.
According to the company, the F/A-18 test pilot maintained a 20ft separation between MQ-25 to ensure stability while refuelling.
Boeing Defense, Space & Security president and CEO Leanne Caret said: “This history-making event is a credit to our joint Boeing and navy team that is all-in on delivering MQ-25’s critical aerial refuelling capability to the fleet as soon as possible.
“Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defence operations.”
Boeing’s T1 test asset is a predecessor to the seven test aircraft that the company is manufacturing as part of a contract awarded in 2018.