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A new Navy drone successfully refueled a fighter jet in midair on Friday — the first time a manned receiver aircraft has ever gotten gas from unmanned tanker — according to a press release.
The MQ-25 Stingray drone attached itself to a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet that took off from MidAmerica Airport in Illinois, the site of a Boeing test program for the drones, officials said.
The fighter jet pilot tailed the drone at the same speed until the vehicle was able to attach its probe-and-drogue system to the plane’s tank and pump it full of fuel from a pod under its wing, according to the release.
“This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts,” said Rear Adm. Brian Corey, the program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.
“MQ-25 will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing — equipping our aircraft carriers with additional assets well into the future.”
In addition to refueling airborne planes, the drone is expected to improve Naval intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, officials said. Under the program, the Boeing-Navy drones are expected to free up manned tankers for other missions.
Tests on the tanker drone will continue over the next several months, before military officials hope to develop a fleet of 20 MQ-25A drones that will be based out of Naval Base Ventura County in California, according to Millitary.com.
“The MQ-25 is foundational to the Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework and is the first step toward a future fleet augmented by unmanned systems to pace the evolving challenges of the 21st century,” officials said.