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In an aviation first, Boeing drone refuels another aircraft in mid-air

• New Atlas

Codenamed the Stingray by the Navy, the MQ-25 T1 was developed and built at Boeing's facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, after the aerospace company won a US$805 million US Navy contract. The prototype drone made its first autonomous flight at the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in 2019, although no refuelling was performed at that time.

Such was not the case on June 4th of this year, however, when the MQ-25 refuelled a piloted F/A-18 Super Hornet in mid-air. The fighter pilot started by flying in close formation below and behind the drone, at which point the MQ-25 released and extended its fuel-delivery drogue – this is essentially a funnel-like receptacle on the end of a long hose.

The pilot then moved in so that the drogue was able to couple with the F/A-18's nose-mounted fuel probe, at which point jet fuel was transferred from the MQ-25 to the Super Hornet. According to Boeing, both aircraft were flying at "operationally relevant speeds and altitudes." That said, we're still waiting to hear back from the company regarding where the flight took place, and whether the drone was flying autonomously or by remote control.


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