In a future we’ve only glimpsed in video games about improbably-excellent pilots, Boeing has completed a successful test of its in-flight refuelling drone, the MQ-25. The tanker drone is intended to replace human pilots when it comes to topping up military aircraft in the air.
Making the MQ-25
Boeing doesn’t quite have a fully-functional in-flight refuelling assistant yet, though. The T1 test drone has completed its first flight with the aerial fuelling pod, hose and basket (known as the ARS or aerial refuelling store) that will — eventually — qualify it to refuel planes in mid-air. Which, if you’ve ever seen it, looks rather exciting. Apparently, though, the mission itself is rather boring for the pilot involved.
Which is why the US Navy, who are paying Boeing for this development, is hoping to reassign the F/A-18 Hornets that usually do the job, eventually replacing the planes (and their pilots) with more than 70 MQ-25 drones who won’t complain about not being allowed to blow things up. Which means fewer pilots at risk, and more pilots in the field doing actual military things.
Boeing program director Dave Bujold said “To see T1 fly with the hardware and software that makes MQ-25 an aerial refueler this early in the program is a visible reminder of the capability we’re bringing to the carrier deck. We’re ensuring the ARS and the software operating it will be ready to help MQ-25 extend the range of the carrier air wing.”