American F-18 fighter received fuel in the air from a drone [video]

WASHINGTON, BM – Developed by Northrop Grumman, the X-47B was the first combat drone to be able to land and be catapulted from an aircraft carrier. And he was also a pioneer in automated aerial refueling, making several “contacts” in 2015 with the “funnel” basket located at the end of the flexible hose of a KC-707 Omega.

American F-18 fighter received fuel in the air from a drone
Photo credit: Boeing

These tests were carried out as part of the UCLASS [Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike] program, which was intended to provide the US Navy with onboard combat drones. However, the latter revised its plans… And, in 2016, it launched the “Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System” [C-BAR] project.

Indeed, to allow its aircraft carriers to keep out of range of anti-ship missiles – like the Chinese DF-21, whose real capabilities are unknown – the US Navy decided to develop drones capable of refueling other aircraft in flight.

Thus, one of this type, capable of supplying 7,000 liters of fuel 500 miles from the aircraft carrier, would make it possible to strike harder and, above all, from further away, while freeing the F / A-18 Super Hornets from their so-called missions. “Nanny” [configuration for in-flight refueling], which can represent up to 30% of their flight time.

In 2018, Boeing was appointed to carry out the C-BAR program, with the MQ-25 “Stingray” drone, which made its maiden flight the following year. Work progressed rapidly since this aircraft flew in a tanker configuration last December.

And, on June 7, Boeing announced that an MQ-25 had transferred fuel to an F / A-18 Super Hornet three days earlier. This is the first time in aviation history that a drone refuels an aircraft in flight.

“During the first part of the flight, the pilot of the F / A-18 flew in close formation behind the MQ-25 to ensure its performance and stability before refueling,” said Boeing. “Both aircraft flew at operationally appropriate speeds and altitudes. Once the evaluation was completed, and in complete safety, the MQ-25’s funnel basket deployed and the F / A-18 pilot ‘plugged in’ the drone to receive the planned fuel,.”

Before achieving this first, the MQ-25 T1 made 25 flights, which opened up its entire flight envelope. These tests were supplemented by simulations carried out with numerical models.

However, there is still some way to go before the MQ-25 can be deployed from the deck of an aircraft carrier. According to Boeing, it will begin a test campaign in Norfolk to this end by the end of this year.

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