This is the moment the world’s first aerial refuelling operation between an unmanned tanker and a receiver aircraft is carried out between Boeings MQ-25 Stingray and a F/A-18 Super Hornet jet.
The unprecedented exercise was carried out by the US Navy at the MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah in the state of Illinois last Friday (4th June).
In a statement obtained by Newsflash, the US Navy said: “MQ-25 T1 will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing – equipping our aircraft carriers with additional assets well into the future.”
Capt. Chad Reed, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program, said: “Seeing the MQ-25 fulfilling its primary tasking today, fuelling a F/A-18, is a significant and exciting moment for the Navy”
He added: “It shows concrete progress toward realizing MQ-25’s capabilities for the fleet.”
The MQ-25 T1 has a range of 930 kilometres (580 miles) when carrying 15,000 lbs of fuel, a wingspan of 23 metres (75 feet) and measures 16 metres (51 feet) in length.
The unmanned aircraft is powered by a Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine delivering 4,500 kilogrammes (10,000 lbs) of thrust but its top speed has not been confirmed.
In the footage, the MQ-25 and the F/A-18 can be seen flying at extremely close proximity as the unmanned aircraft releases its refuelling hose.
The hose then attaches to the F/A-18 and the fuel is pumped from its Aerial Refuelling Store (ARS) into the fighter jets tank.
For now, the Stingray remains in development and the Navy said: “Testing with T1 will continue over the next several months to include flight envelope expansion, engine testing, and deck handling demonstrations”
The Navy concluded their statement by saying: “The MQ-25 is foundational to the Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework and is the first step toward a future fleet augmented by unmanned systems to pace the evolving challenges of the 21st century. “