The U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program completed its first aerial refueling flight with an E-2D aircraft. Boeing‘s MQ-25 T1 Stingray drone has successfully refueled the E-2D Hawkeye command and control aircraft during a flight test mission conducted from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.
Just a couple of months ago, the MQ-25 prototype made its historic first mid-air refueling of a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter plane. Both flights were conducted at operationally relevant speeds and altitudes, with the E-2D and F/A-18 maneuvering in close proximity to T1. The ultimate objective is for the MQ-25 to be capable of refueling every receiver-capable aircraft once operational, so each of these demonstrations is an important step in achieving that.
During the second carrier-based aircraft unmanned refueling mission, pilots from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-20 conducted a successful wake survey behind MQ-25 T1 to ensure performance and stability before making contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue. The E-2D received fuel from T1’s aerial refueling store during the flight. The data collected from these historic refueling flights will be used to upgrade the digital models of the MQ-25 that will help improve the first production models for the U.S. carrier air wing.
“Once operational, the MQ-25 will refuel every receiver-capable platform, including E-2,” said Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. “This flight keeps us on a fast track to getting the Stingray out to the fleet where its refueling capability will greatly increase the range and operational flexibility of the carrier air wing and strike group.”
The MQ-25 Stingray aircraft will be the world’s first carrier-based operational unmanned aircraft and will provide airborne refueling and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that will greatly expand the global reach, operational flexibility, and lethality of Carriers Air Wing and the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group.
Boeing is currently manufacturing the first two of seven MQ-25 test aircraft and two ground test articles currently under contract. The Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset is a predecessor to these aircraft. When it goes into production, the MQ-25A Stingray will be assigned to the carrier airborne early warning squadron within the carrier air wing, which currently operates the E-2 C/D aircraft – known as the “digital quarterback” of the fleet for its role in joint battle management and command and control.