Aircraft refueling in mid air has been a thing for a hot minute now. Ditto for unmanned aircraft, also known as drones. Now, for the first time ever, the two have been combined in the form of the Boeing MQ-25 ‘Stingray’, which successfully refueled a US navy F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’ earlier this month.
I’m Boeing to need a refuel
A four and a half hour test flight was conducted from the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, on the 4th of the June 2021. Boeing announced the successful flight later on. The test saw Boeing’s unmanned drone take off and fly alongside an F/A-18 Super Hornet before extending a fuel hose to it during the flight. The F/A-18’s pilot came as close as 6 metres away from the MQ-25, connected with the hose, and successfully refueled.
Captain Chad Reed, the program manager for the US Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program was happy with the results. “Unmanned systems alongside our traditional combatant force provide additional capability and capacity to give our warfighters the advantage needed to fight, win, and deter potential aggressors,” he said in a press conference.
The US military apparently has plans to rely on AI assistance in dogfighting scenarios, according to The Next Web. Boeing also says it is “all-in on delivering MQ-25’s critical aerial refueling capability to the fleet as soon as possible,” indicating future collaboration between the aerospace company and the military.
“The MQ-25 is that first step towards a future where the carrier-based fleet is augmented by unmanned systems,” Reed concludes.