Boeing has lifted the lid ever so slightly on its entry in the US Navy's MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker competition. The company released a partial image of the swept-wing drone that is currently completing engine runs before starting deck-handling demonstrations next year. It is designed to act as a carrier-based, in-flight refueling aircraft for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter.

Boeing hasn't released any details about its candidate for the MQ-25 Stingray program, which will compete with proposals from Lockheed Martin and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The image only shows the central fuselage with its undercarriage, dorsal jet engine intake, part of the wings, and the canted stabilizers. In some respects, it resembles Northrop Grumman's X-47B, though with a much thicker cross section to accommodate refueling tanks.

The Navy plans the MQ-25 Stingray as an unmanned carrier aviation air system (UCAAS), which was formerly known as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS). It's purpose is to extend the range of carrier aircraft by providing an inflight refueling capability that isn't dependent on land-based tankers. Boeing's aircraft can be launched using the carrier's catapult and land using the arrestor wire recovery system, and is designed to operate on deck with other aircraft as well as folding its wings for hangar storage.

The MQ-25 is the successor to the Navy's Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program that studied the potential for building an unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft. However, in February 2016 the Pentagon decided to postpone the full combat design until a later date and turn the drone into a tanker with only occasional surveillance duties.

The proposals from the competing companies are due for submission by January 3, 2018.

"Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years," says Don 'BD' Gaddis, leader of the refueling system program for Boeing's Phantom Works technology organization. "Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded."

Source: Boeing