Boeing’s defence arm has unveiled a radical unmanned drone that can refuel fighter jets in mid air.
The small, unnamed craft will be carried on warships and catapulted into the air in the same way fighter jets are.
It will be able to refuel the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35C fighters – and means they can stay at the battlefront for far longer.
HOW IT WILL WORK
The MQ-25 ‘Stingray’ will be launched from the deck of a warship using the same catapult used to launch fighter jets.
The unmanned craft will be able to fly to a safe area near the battlefront and refuel aircraft in the air.
It will be able to deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel 500 nautical miles from the carrier.
Human operators aboard the carrier will be able to direct the drone via radio and satellite.
On deck, the crew will remotely guide the aircraft around planes and people using a handheld controller.
The aerospace giant’s defence arm teased the new craft, covered in a black cloth, on Twitter earlier this week, boasting it will ‘change future air power’.
Many had believed it was a radical new craft using electric ‘hairdryer’ to allow it to land and take off vertically – a project Boeing is still believed to be working on.
‘Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year,’ the aerospace giant said.
‘The aircraft is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters.
The new craft will compete in a US Navy contest to find a refuelling drone.
Through its MQ-25 competition, the Navy is seeking unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters.
The MQ-25 will also have to seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems, allowing it to use all of the same systems as the fighter jets it will refuel.
‘Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,’ said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads 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.’