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US Navy’s X-47B Completes First Unmanned Air-To-Air Refueling Mission


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Air-to-air refueling is a significant strategic capability that the US military has been using for quite a while. It is a complex process involving the precise handling of the aircraft and being vigilant to handle any contingencies. Unmanned technology has experienced rapid advancements in the recent years, but until the X-47B, no other aircraft was tested for unmanned aerial missions before. Such was the complex nature of the process. But now, with the undertaking of this major upgrade, a new acronym has been introduced in the military acronym dictionary; Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR).

US Navy has a substantial Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program that is aiming to increase the operational capability and numbers of unmanned aircraft from the Naval carriers. AAR capability will further enhance the range and effectiveness of the unmanned aircrafts at the disposal of US Navy.


The X-47B took 4,000 lbs of jet fuel from the Omega k-707 tanker and completed the AAR procedure entirely on its own. It only took commands from the control center and executed them independently. The refueling process is known as the probe and drogue method in which the aircraft extends a probe into the refueling plane and links up to the basket.


The unmanned control system allowed the aircraft to approach the tanker, close the distance, find the basket, and insert the probe. Afterwards, it flew in formation for 11 minutes before disconnecting and disengaging from the parent vessel.

This X-47B is one of the two planes made by Northrop Grumman for the Navy. It is not a drone or a remotely piloted craft; it is rather a fully autonomous unit capable of following some pre-programmed commands in the air. One of these, as we have found out, is the AAR. No weapons or warheads are currently functional with the X-47B, which looks mightily like B-2 itself. However, the AAR capability and the autonomous nature suggest a new intercontinental strategic delivery system on the cards. Here is the full video:


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