Boeing's unmanned air tanker MQ-25 Stingray is currently completing ground tests at the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia in preparation for a carrier demonstration, the U.S. Navy confirmed in a press release.
Unveiled over three years ago, the MQ-25 or T1 tanker is designed to refuel naval fighter aircraft mid-air. Although mid-air refueling is common practice for the U.S. military, this is the first attempt with an unmanned drone. The MQ-25 has been making rapid strides since its unveiling and has successfully completed a refueling attempt of the F-35C aircraft in September this year.
The drone tanker is now moving a step closer to deployment. According to the press release, the U.S. Navy and Boeing are moving through ground tests currently and aiming for a carrier demonstration in December. As part of the tests, the team recently completed deck handling where the engines on the aircraft were up and running and the taxiing was handled by controllers on the deck.
Providing further details of the test, Rick Schramm, the technical lead engineer of the material review board, said that the team was using painted lines on the flight deck to evaluate the MQ-25's operation on the ship deck and how it would maneuver on the aircraft carrier.
"The ground testing is another step toward the teaming of manned and unmanned aircraft platforms. Integrating platforms like the MQ-25 into the air wing will increase their lethality and reach," said Rear Adm. John Meier, Commander of the Naval Air Force Atlantic, in the press release.
The MQ-25 is the U.S. Navy's first step towards a unified network where its manned and unmanned assets work interoperably. The drone tanker is expected to increase strike range and maneuverability of naval fighter aircraft as it aims to be in a position to refuel "every receiver-capable carrier-based aircraft," by the time it is operational, the press release said. The Navy also has ambitious plans of making MQ-25 the fastest defense acquisition to reach operational capability, the release added.