Unmanned Aircraft Completes Air-To-Air Refuelling For First Time

The Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 refuelled a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet during a flight last week, making aviation history.

An unmanned aircraft has refuelled another aircraft in the air for what is thought to be the first time ever.

The Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 refuelled a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet during a flight last week.

Leanne Caret, Boeing Defense, Space and Security president and CEO, said the "history-making event is a credit" to the Navy and Boeing team responsible for the MQ-25.

"Their work is the driving force behind the safe and secure integration of unmanned systems in the immediate future of defense operations," she said.

During the first part of the flight, the F/A-18 test pilot flew in close formation behind the MQ-25 to ensure both performance and stability prior to refuelling.

The refuelling itself required as little as 20ft of separation between the MQ-25 T1 and the F/A-18 refuelling probe.

Once the evaluation safely completed, the MQ-25 drogue was extended and the F/A-18 pilot moved in to "plug" with the unmanned aircraft and receive the scheduled fuel offload.

Rear Admiral Brian Corey, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, said the "team of professionals [were] integral in the successful flight".

"Over the next few years, we will work side-by-side with Boeing to deliver this capability that will greatly enhance the future carrier air wing," he said.

The milestone comes after 25 T1 flights, while the MQ-25 T1 will continue testing before it is shipped to Norfolk, Virginia, for deck handling trials on a US Navy carrier later this year.

The T1 test asset is a predecessor to the seven test aircraft Boeing is manufacturing under a 2018 contract award. 

The MQ-25 will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters and helping extend the range of the carrier air wing.

Cover image: MQ-25 refueling a US Navy FA 18 Super Hornet, the first time an unmanned aircraft has refueled another aircraft (Picture: Boeing).