An unmanned aerial vehicle successfully refueled another aircraft in midair for the first time, officials announced Monday.
During the flight, a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet and a Boeing-made drone called the MQ-25 Stingray were briefly tethered by a hose, and the drone pumped fuel into the fighter jet as both flew just 20 feet apart.
A demonstration video from the test shows the drone fly directly in front of the Super Hornet while a cord from the unmanned aircraft descends toward the nose of the fighter jet and begins the midair fuel transference process before disconnecting.
The drone transferred 325 of the 500 pounds of fuel available during the roughly 4.5-hour test flight, said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director, according to a local CBS affiliate.
Rear Adm. Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, commended the team who he said were “integral to the successful flight,” according to a Boeing press release.
“This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts.” #MQ25 is the first unmanned aircraft to ever refuel another aircraft.
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) June 7, 2021
Corey added that the Navy would continue to work with Boeing on future tests “over the next few years.”
“This is our mission, an unmanned aircraft that frees our strike fighters from the tanker role and provides the Carrier Air Wing with greater range, flexibility, and capability,” said Capt. Chad Reed, program manager for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office.
The Navy plans to use data collected during the test flight to determine whether any adjustments should be made.
The Washington Examiner contacted the Navy for additional information but did not immediately receive a response.