WATCH: Boeing Drone Tanker Refuels An F-35C Fighter Jet Mid-Air For The First Time

The U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker conducted its first aerial refuelling with an F-35C Lightning II Fighter, the third aircraft to take fuel from the Navy’s first unmanned system designed to deploy in a potential carrier strike group.

For several years, the MQ-25 program has been in the pipeline. The autonomous aircraft, first launched in 2018, took to the skies for the first time in September 2019 and has registered more than 120 flight hours to collect data on its performance ever since. Boeing, on the other hand, did not begin refuelling until June.

T1, an unmanned test asset, was the first mid-air operation in the world that fed a crippled F/A-18 Superhornet. During the operation, the F/A-18 was only 20 feet (6.1 meters) away from the drone. According to the press release, the drone was later utilized to refuel the E-2D Hawkeye in August.

The most recent effort to refuel the F-35C Lightning II was on September 13th, with a total of three consecutive operations.  

The F-35C test pilot from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23), as shown in the video, surveyed the T1. After testing performance and reliability, the Pilot linked with T1’s air refuelling drogue and accepted fuel without further delay. However, there are no details about the amount of fuel delivered or the distance between planes. A F/A-18 aircraft is also visible in the footage, which was not refuelled during the flight.

“This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 aircraft design. Thanks to this latest mission, 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 program director for MQ-25, remarked.

“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,” said Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager.

Boeing is currently developing two MQ-25s for the Navy, while the T1 will participate in a deck handling demonstration aboard a US Navy carrier to help with the integration process. The demo’s dates are yet to be determined.

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