Boeing’s [BA] MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based tanker test asset, called T1, conducted the first unmanned aerial refueling with a Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35C Joint Strike Fighter for the Navy on Sept. 13.
The company and Navy said their integrated team conducted the refueling test flight near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill.
“Every T1 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 refueling capability is going to increase the Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the carrier strike group commanders,” Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s PMA-268 program manager, said in a statement.
“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,” Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director, added.
This was the third refueling flight for the T1 aircraft, with the others also based out of the MidAmerica airport.
Last month, the Navy and Boeing successfully tested the T1 refueling a Northrop Grumman [NOC] E-2D Advanced Hawkeye (Defense Daily, Aug 19).
The first T1 refueling test occurred with a Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet last June (Defense Daily, June 7).
This third refueling flight lasted three hours. During the test, a Navy F-35C pilot from Air Test Wing and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) approached T1, performed formation evaluations, wake surveys, drogue tracking and plugged with the MQ-25 test vehicle. This occurred at 225 knots calibrated airspeed (KCAS) and an altitude of 10,000 feet.
The Navy said an air vehicle operator initiated the fuel transfer from T1’s aerial refueling store to the F-35C from a ground control station.
The Navy underscored each aircraft has a different aerodynamic interaction in the wake of the MQ-25, so these refueling test missions allow the program to analyze data and determine the need for any adjustments to guidance and control.
The Navy said after this test flight T1 is next set to enter a modification period to integrate the deck handling system in preparation for a planned non-launching aircraft carrier shipboard demonstration planned for this upcoming winter. The Navy did not disclose which carrier is likely to host this test.
The T1 has thus far conducted 36 flights and over 120 flight hours, which aims to provide the program with useful information on aerodynamics, propulsion, guidance and control before the initial MQ-25 engineering and manufacturing development aircraft models are delivered next year.
Beyond refueling, the MQ-25A will also provide some intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to support the planned air wing of the future as a mix of fourth- and fifth-generation manned aircraft, unmanned platforms, and networked sensors and weapons.