Watch Boeing's Drone Tanker Refuel US Navy F-35C For the First Time

The unmanned tanker is closing in on deployment.
Ameya Paleja
F-35C being refueled by MQ-25 T1Boeing

The U.S. Navy and Boeing recently completed the mid-air refueling of an F-35C Lightning II fighter jet using the latter's MQ-25 Stingray, unmanned tanker, according to a press release

The MQ-25 program has been in the works for a few years now. Initiated in 2018, the unmanned aircraft first took flight in September of 2019 and has since clocked more than 120 flight hours to gather data about its flight performance. But it was only in June that Boeing attempted its first refueling. 

The unmanned test asset called T1, refueled a manned F/A-18 Superhornet, making it the world's first mid-air maneuver of this kind. During the attempt, the F/A-18 was as close as 20 feet (6.1 m) away from the drone. Later in August, the drone was used to refuel the E-2D Hawkeye, the press release said. 

Making it three in a row, was the latest attempt to refuel the single-engine stealth aircraft, the F-35C Lightning II on September 13.

As seen in the video, the F-35C test pilot, who hails from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23), conducted a wake survey behind the T1. After ensuring performance and stability, the pilot made contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue and received fuel. Details of how much fuel was transferred or the distance between the aircraft haven't been released. Also seen in the video, is a F/A-18 aircraft, which was not refueled during this flight. 

Speaking after the successful flight, Dave Bujold, Boeing's program director for MQ-25 said, "This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 aircraft design. Thanks to this latest mission, 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.”

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“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 Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. 

Boeing is currently manufacturing two MQ-25's for the Navy, while the T1 heads for a deck handling demonstration aboard the US Navy carrier to advance the integration process, the press release said. The dates of the demo have not been confirmed yet. 

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