An Unmanned Tanker Refuelled a Stealth Aircraft

An Unmanned Tanker Refuelled a Stealth Aircraft
An Unmanned Tanker Refuelled a Stealth Aircraft
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The Boeing prototype MQ-25A T1 unmanned carrier tanker refuelled an F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter as part of early testing for the program, Naval Air Systems Command announced on Tuesday. The operation makes F-35C the third aircraft type to take fuel from the Navy’s first unmanned system designed to deploy in a future carrier strike group.


Boeing’s T1 test aircraft and an F-35C from the Navy’s Air Test Wing and Evaluation Squadron 23 conducted a three-hour mission on Sept. 13.

During the three-hour flight, 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 asset at 225 knots calibrated airspeed (KCAS) and altitude of 10,000 feet. At the ground control station, an air vehicle operator initiated the fuel transfer from the T1′s aerial refuelling store to the F-35C.

An Unmanned Tanker Refuelled a Stealth Aircraft

“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,” Navy program manager Capt. Chad Reed said in a news release. “Stingray’s unmatched refuelling capability is going to increase the Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the carrier strike group commanders.”

The latest refuelling follows a six-hour test flight on Aug. 18, when the MQ-25 refuelled an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye for the first time. The E-2D was not originally built to receive fuel in-air but was modified to add the aerial refuelling capability in 2019. Once operational, MQ-25 will refuel every receiver-capable carrier-based aircraft. Each unique aircraft platform will have a different aerodynamic interaction in the wake of MQ-25.

The fighter and the “Stingray” prototype drone tanker “performed formation evaluations, wake surveys, drogue tracking and plugged with the MQ-25 test asset at 225 knots calibrated airspeed (KCAS) and altitude of 10,000 feet. From the ground control station, an air vehicle operator then initiated the fuel transfer from T1’s aerial refuelling store to the F-35C,” according to a statement from NAVAIR.

An Unmanned Tanker Refuelled a Stealth Aircraft

The MQ-25 will be the first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft. They will provide critical aerial refuelling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to support the Air Wing of the Future - a mix of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft, manned and unmanned platforms, and netted sensors and weapons.

At the next step, T1 will head to a carrier for a deck handling demonstration.