Boeing begins testing the first of nine Navy MQ-25 refueling UAVs

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Boeing has announced that it is beginning tests of its latest unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV]. It is the MQ-25 Stingray drone. The news was announced on the official Twitter account of the American company.

This is reportedly the first of nine MQ-25 drones. It has already left the Boeing production line and the company is preparing it for static tests as well as fatigue and flight tests.

The MQ-25 is a drone designed to perform aerial refueling of other combat air platforms of the United States Navy and Air Force. The MQ-25 is being developed by Boeing for the US Navy.

First impressions

The aircraft’s hull, as observed in the recently unveiled video, bears a striking resemblance to the T1 demonstrator in terms of structural design. Speculations abound as to the extent to which Boeing might overhaul the foundational layout of the demonstrator for the finalized production version. 

This process of gradual evolution from demonstrator to production configuration is a customary phenomenon in the realm of cutting-edge air combat technology. In this particular instance, the key integral intake of the aircraft, one of the T-1’s most captivating characteristics, remains essentially unaffected, as do the extra air intakes strategically positioned at the jet’s extremities. 

Video screenshot / Boeing Defense

Characterized by an identical trio of air data probes and an exceptional trapezoidal exhaust system, the nose of the production model showcases a retention of design elements from the T-1. Such similarities bolster the prediction that the disparities between the T-1 and the final MQ-25 variant will be relatively inconsiderable.

The tests

In the wake of concluding static testing, the drones will subsequently proceed to a phase known as fatigue testing, the corporation revealed to the journalists of The War Zone. The latter testing phase necessitates an imposition of amplified stress examinations on aircraft structures. The intention behind these tests is multifaceted, yet primarily seeks to unmask the behavioral patterns of minuscule fissures in the fuselage. What is more, it elucidates when these fissures burgeon to an extent deemed as critical. 

These trials play a cardinal role from a safety standpoint, affirming airworthiness prior to initiating full-flight experimentation with examples from pre-production. Simultaneously, they provide an insight into the prospective endurance of the aircraft type over an extended period.

Boeing MQ-25 Stingray

Embodying the culmination of the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System [CBARS] program, an offshoot of the former Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike [UCLASS] program, the Boeing MQ-25 Stingray makes a significant mark on the landscape of aerial refueling drones. This ground-breaking contraption made its inaugural flight on the nineteenth day of September 2019. 

Boeing’s MQ-25 model exhibits a powerful propulsion system underpinned by a single Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine. This particular engine, in its ability to generate an impressive thrust of 10,000 lbf [44 kN], directly mirrors the variant used to power the Navy’s distinguished MQ-4C Triton. 

Video screenshot / Boeing Defense

Despite the aircraft’s slightly diminished stealth capability in comparison to its flying wing UAV counterparts, the MQ-25 presents an array of covert features. These include a stealth-optimized fuselage design, a flush inlet that serves to shield engine blades from radar detection, as well as a V-shaped tail.

The MQ-25 could grow to 72 units

In a significant announcement made on the 30th of August, 2018, the U.S. Navy declared Boeing the victor of a highly competitive bidding war. This victory came in the form of a lucrative $805 million contract, under the condition that Boeing would develop and deliver a fleet of four MQ-25A aircraft by the conclusion of August in the year 2024. 

Following this development, the U.S. Navy further consolidated its commitment to this venture by ordering an additional three test MQ-25As on the 2nd of April, 2020. This brings the current total order up to seven. With the possibility of an expansion of the program, the overall project could amass a staggering total of $13 billion in funding and potentially lead to the construction of a formidable squadron composed of 72 aircraft.

Photo credit: USNI News


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