The US Navy and Boeing have completed a carrier-based aircraft uncrewed refuelling mission with a F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) for the first time.
Boeing’s MQ-25 test asset, also known as T1, transferred fuel to the F-35C Lightning II JSF during a test flight that took place on 13 September.
During the mission, an F-35C test pilot from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) successfully conducted a wake survey behind T1.
The survey was carried out to ensure performance and stability before contacting T1 asset’s ‘aerial refuelling drogue’ and receiving fuel.
US Navy Unmanned Carrier Aviation programme manager said: “Every test flight with another Type/Model/Series aircraft gets us one step closer to rapidly delivering a fully mission-capable MQ-25 to the fleet.
“Stingray’s unmatched refuelling capability is going to increase the navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the Carrier Strike Group commanders.”
This is the third refuelling mission in the last three months for the Boeing-owned test asset, furthering the test programme for the US Navy’s first operational carrier-based uncrewed aircraft.
Last month, T1 refuelled an E-2D Hawkeye and refuelling of F/A-18 Super Hornet took place in June.
During the first test conducted on 4 June, Boeing and the US Navy demonstrated the aerial refuelling between a crewed and uncrewed aircraft, which saw MQ-25 Stingray test vehicle performing its first mid-air tanking mission with a navy F/A-18 Super Hornet.
Boeing MQ-25 programme director Dave Bujold said: “This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 aircraft design.
“Thanks to this latest mission in our accelerated test program, we are confident the MQ-25 aircraft we are building right now will meet the navy’s primary requirement, delivering fuel safely to the carrier air wing.”
Boeing said it is currently manufacturing the first two of seven MQ-25 test aircraft and two ground test articles.
In the next few months, T1 will be used to conduct a deck handling demonstration onboard a US Navy carrier to further the progress of carrier integration.
Since September 2019, the T1 flight test programme has completed over 120 flight hours.