F-35 fighter refuelled in-flight by unmanned Boeing test aircraft

Boeing’s MQ-25 T1 test asset transfers fuel to a US Navy F-35C
© Boeing
Boeing’s MQ-25 T1 test asset transfers fuel to a US Navy F-35C

The Boeing-made MQ-25 T1 test aircraft has refuelled a US Navy F-35C fighter jet for the first time, the third unmanned refuelling of a carrier-based aircraft recently.

“Every test flight with another Type/Model/Series aircraft gets us one step closer to rapidly delivering a fully mission-capable MQ-25 to the fleet,” said Chad Reed, the US Navy’s unmanned carrier aviation programme manager. “Stingray’s unmatched refueling capability is going to increase the Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the Carrier Strike Group commanders.”

During the test flight yesterday, an F-35C test pilot from the service conducted a successful wake survey behind T1 to ensure performance and stability before making contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue and receiving fuel.

This was the third refuelling mission for the T1 test asset in just over three months, advancing the test programme for the service’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft. T1 refuelled an F/A-18 Super Hornet in June and an E-2D Hawkeye in August.

“This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 aircraft design,” said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 programme director. “Thanks to this latest mission in our accelerated test programme, we are confident the MQ-25 aircraft we are building right now will meet the Navy’s primary requirement – delivering fuel safely to the carrier air wing.”

The T1 flight test programme began in September 2019 with the aircraft’s first flight. In the following two years, the test programme completed more than 120 flight hours – gathering data on everything from aircraft performance to propulsion dynamics to structural loads and flutter testing for strength and stability.

MQ-25 is benefitting from the two years of early flight test data, which has been integrated back into its digital models to strengthen the digital thread connecting aircraft design to production to test to operations and sustainment. Boeing is currently manufacturing the first two MQ-25 test aircraft.

T1 will be used to conduct a deck handling demonstration aboard a US Navy carrier in the coming months to help advance the carrier integration progress.




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