Boeing And US Navy Conduct First Air Refueling Involving Piloted F/A-18 Super Hornet And Unmanned MQ-25June 8, 2021
On June 4, during a flight test carried out by Boeing and the US Navy, a MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial vehicle made history during a test flight in which it was able to refuel a piloted US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet in mid-air.
The milestone took place when a MQ-25 fitted with a US Navy Aerial Refueling Store began offloading fuel to an F/A-18 through a hose and drogue connection. Both aircraft had required a 20 feet separation while flying roughly at identical speed and altitude.
The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray is a 51 ft (16 m) long unmanned air vehicle with a wingspan of 75 ft (23 m) that can operate from the deck of an aircraft carrier. It is powered by a Rolls Royce AE 3700 turbofan engine. In comparison, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with a fuselage length of 60 ft (18 m), is barely longer than the MQ-25.
Once completed, the ambitious program will allow the US Navy to induct MQ-25 to fully assume the role of aerial tanker for combat missions involving F/A-18 Super Hornet. In the current configuration, combat formations are forced to rely on F/A-18 Super Hornets to carry out tankers mission thanks to “buddy” refueling kits. This approach takes away precious combat and pilot resources from essential core combat mission.
For Navy planners, the operational advantages can be significant. Citing Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker, USNI News states that, with its refueling pod, the MQ-25 Stingray should be capable of transferring up to 15,000 pounds of fuel to F/A-18 Super Hornets. The operation could be done ideally at a distance of up to 500 nautical miles from the aircraft carrier. The benefit would be doubling the range of the F/A-18 strike missions, by about 400 nautical miles.