MQ-25 Stingray drone refuels F-35C mid-air for the first time
Boeing's MQ-25 T1 Stingray drone has successfully aerially refueled a US Navy F-35C Lightning II fighter jet for the first time, demonstrating that the robotic aircraft can support the 5th generation fighter during carrier operations.
Flown on September 13, 2021 with a test pilot from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23), the latest refueling flight was the third by the MQ-25 since the test program began in 2019. The previous flights included refueling an F/A-18 Super Hornet in June and an E-2D Hawkeye in August to show that the drone can refuel a wide variety of carrier-based aircraft.
For the latest test, the pilot of the F-35C carrier-variant followed in the wake of the MQ-25 to collect data about aircraft performance, propulsion dynamics, structural loads, and flutter testing for strength and stability in the backwash from the drone's jet engine. The fighter then moved forward and made contact with the MQ-25's aerial refueling drogue and took on fuel.
The information from the flights will be used to upgrade the digital models of the MQ-25 to improve the first production models for the US carrier air wing. The next major phase of testing will move onboard a US carrier for flight deck handling exercises.
"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," says Captain Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program 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."
The video below shows highlights of the F-35C refueling.