The US Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned refuelling aircraft, MQ-25, has completed its maiden test flight.

The successful flight was conducted by the navy and Boeing from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois.

MQ-25’s test asset, known as T1, performed an FAA-certified autonomous taxi and take-off.

The aircraft flew autonomously for two hours and the basic flight functions and operations were assessed.

The test was carried out under the direction of Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station.

US Navy Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) programme manager captain Chad Reed said: “Today’s flight is an exciting and significant milestone for our programme and the navy.

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“The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders.”

Boeing and the US Navy will continue to perform testing on the T1 in the coming years.

The company is expected to deliver the engineering development model (EDM) aircraft under the programme in 2021.

The programme aims to achieve initial operational capability for the MQ-25A Stingray in 2024.

Boeing MQ-25 program director Dave Bujold said: “Seeing MQ-25 in the sky is a testament to our Boeing and navy team working the technology, systems and processes that are helping get MQ-25 to the carrier.

“This aircraft and its flight test programme ensures we’re delivering the MQ-25 to the carrier fleet with the safety, reliability and capability the US Navy needs to conduct its vital mission.”

The firm is under a contract to produce and deliver four EDM MQ-25 aircraft for the US Navy.

The MQ-25 aircraft will help reduce the dependence on F/A-18E/F combat strike fighters for tanking duties and increase their availability for strike fighter missions.

In addition, the unmanned aerial refueller will extend the range of the carrier air wing.