Drone Refuels U.S. Navy Fighter Jet While Flying

In a world’s first, a drone refueled a U.S. Navy fighter jet in midair, proving that the military can and should use unmanned vehicles for more than reconnaissance missions and target attacks.

The MQ-25 Stingray, a drone purpose-built for aerial refueling, met the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet during flight. The latter needed to refuel after leaving the MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois. For the first time, an unmanned vehicle was able to do just that in midair, avoiding a fuel stop for the jet.

The MQ-25 Stingray had flown for the first time in September 2019 but this marked its first successful tanker mission.

The two aerial vehicles simply… connected, you know?

The two aerial vehicles approached in midair, 20 feet apart from each other. The drone extended a hose that connected with the Super Hornet to receive fuel, in what is known as a probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method.

“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 (PMA-268). “Seeing the MQ-25 fulfilling its primary tasking today, fueling an F/A-18, is a significant and exciting moment for the Navy and shows concrete progress toward realizing MQ-25’s capabilities for the fleet.”

By providing critical aerial fueling, the Stingray drone set a precedent and the U.S. Navy is eager to do a follow-up. The same drone will be put through several other tests and flights in the coming months. Those will include flight envelope expansion, engine testing, and deck handling demonstrations aboard an aircraft carrier.

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Drone Refuels U.S. Navy Fighter Jet While Flying

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