US Navy's gamechanger: MQ-25 Stingray unmanned 'drone' aircraft refuels Super Hornet jet

The MQ-25 Stingray's displayed its ability to carry out its primary aerial refuelling mission - a gamechanger in a combat situation.

US Navy's MQ-25 Stingray's

On June 4, the US Navy and Boeing created aviation history as MQ-25 T1 successfully extended the hose and drogue from its US Navy-issued aerial refuelling store (ARS) and safely transferred jet fuel to a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing said.

The MQ-25 Stingray's displayed its ability to carry out its primary aerial refuelling mission - a gamechanger in a combat situation when there is a need for an aircraft to stay in the air as long as possible.

As defence forces around the world use drones to perform several tasks, this new innovation in the form of MQ-25 Stingray is set to create a new dynamic Air Force with giant refuel planes no longer needed in long haul mission overground.

(Photo Courtesy: Boeing)


Close formation flight

During the initial part of the flight, the F/A-18 test pilot flew in close formation behind MQ-25 to ensure performance and stability prior to refuelling – a manoeuvre that required as little as 20 feet of separation between the MQ-25 T1 air vehicle and the F/A-18 refueling probe.

Both aircraft flew at operationally relevant speeds and altitudes with the evaluation safely completed, the MQ-25 drogue was extended, and the F/A-18 pilot moved in to "plug" with the unmanned aircraft and receive the scheduled fuel offload.

(Photo Courtesy: Boeing)


'Team of professionals'

The MQ-25 will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters and helping extend the range of the Carrier Air Wing, Boeing said in a statement.

"This team of professionals was integral in the successful flight," said Rear Admiral Brian Corey, who oversaw the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.

"Over the next few years, we will work side-by-side with Boeing to deliver this capability that will greatly enhance the future Carrier Air Wing," Corey added.

(Photo Courtesy: Boeing)


X-47B with Omega K-707 tanker

It is not the first time the US Navy has demonstrated its air-to-air capability. In 2015, Northrop Grumman Corporation and the US Navy had successfully demonstrated fully autonomous aerial refuelling (AAR) with the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft.

During the probe and drogue AAR demonstration, the X-47B performed a close formation flight rendezvous with an Omega K-707 tanker.  

(Photo Courtesy: Northrop Grumman Corporation)


Pioneering 'hybrid' approach

Northrop Grumman had begun developing AAR technology for both Navy and Air Force application nearly a decade ago, pioneering a "hybrid" approach that integrates both GPS and infrared imaging to enhance navigational precision and hedge against GPS disruption, the company had said in a statement.

(Photo Courtesy: Northrop Grumman Corporation)


Proof-of-concept flights

Initial UCAS-D flight testing began in 2012 using a manned Learjet as a surrogate for the X-47B.

These successful proof-of-concept flights demonstrated the overall feasibility of the X-47B AAR system and helped refine its navigation, command and control, and infrared sensor processing components.

The experiment allowed the US Navy to integrate standard missions like aerial refueling and operate seamlessly with manned aircraft as part of the Carrier Air Wing.


Pentagon orders MQ-25 Stingray for 2024

The Navy intends to have the Stingray's on its battleships and reportedly plans to buy 72 pieces costing $13 billion.

According to the Pentagon, three MQ-25 aerial refuelling drone's are set to be complete by August 2024.

According to the US Navy, it will integrate the Stingray's on its carriers in 2024 with the high tech drone capable of loading 15,000 pounds of fuel at 500 nautical miles.


America in Indo-Pacific region

It is no secret US aircraft carriers travel great distances with several fighters decked atop their great runways. The US is now engaged in a dual not only with China along the Taiwan Straits but in the entire Indo-Pacific region.

The carriers need to move at short notice to West Asia and sometimes deep into South China Sea.

As technology evolves and drones start playing a key role in warfare the ability of the Stingray's to keep the fighter jets in the air as long as possible will no doubt make the Super Hornets and the future aircraft an invincible war weapon capable of long day & night missions.


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