The American MQ-25 programme has successfully conducted the first ever aerial refueling operations between a crewed receiver aircraft and an uncrewed tanker.

According to the U.S. Navy, this successful flight “demonstrated that the MQ-25 Stingray can fulfill its tanker mission using the Navy’s standard probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method”.

“During the flight, the receiver Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet approached the Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset, conducted a formation evaluation, wake survey, drogue tracking and then plugged with the unmanned aircraft. T1 then successfully transferred fuel from its Aerial Refueling Store (ARS) to the F/A-18.”

“This flight lays the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts,” said Rear Adm. Brian Corey who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons.

“MQ-25 will greatly increase the range and endurance of the future carrier air wing – equipping our aircraft carriers with additional assets well into the future.”

Testing with T1 will continue over the next several months to include flight envelope expansion, engine testing, and deck handling demonstrations aboard an aircraft carrier later this year.

The MQ-25A Stingray will be the world’s first operational carrier-based uncrewed aircraft capable of refuelling other aircraft.

You can read more here.

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Mark B
Mark B
18 days ago

Exactly the ype of thing we need to operate from our carriers and elsewhere.

Ian
Ian
18 days ago
Reply to  Mark B

Hi Mark….
Would the Boeing Defiant fill the bill
No cats and traps
Thanks Ian

Dern
Dern
18 days ago
Reply to  Ian

MOD has given industry a notice that they’ll be wanting a lightweight EMALS derived system for launching drones.

Boris S.
Boris S.
17 days ago
Reply to  Dern

Sorry, what’s EMALS?

Dern
Dern
17 days ago
Reply to  Boris S.

It’s an acronym short for ElectroMagnetic Aircraft Launch System.
Baisically a catapult using electro-magnets instead of steam to fire a aircraft off the ship.

Steve R
Steve R
16 days ago
Reply to  Dern

Would MQ25 fit within the weight limits that they mentioned for their lightweight EMALS?

Dern
Dern
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

As far as I know, yes.

Mark B
Mark B
18 days ago
Reply to  Ian

Drones are now very much a must have in all shapes and sizes and in most scenarios. This was not really he case when they first designed the carriers. I would foresee VTOL and potentially some form of cats and traps. Good money for anyone who provides a design which fits in with what they already have.

Nic
Nic
16 days ago
Reply to  Mark B

I think AEW could be done by VTOL but a refuelling drone would have to be launched from a cat

Julian
Julian
18 days ago

What’s the take off & landing length? Would it need cat and/or trap to operate from QE2?

Lionel
Lionel
18 days ago
Reply to  Julian

It would need cat / traps. There is a request for information out from the MoD at the moment for proposals for a solution to launch and recover lighter aircraft (drones) with the likely intention to operate them alongside the F35B in the future. They are also requesting concepts for a replacement for Crowsnest (which could also potentially be a drone large enough to require cats / traps). There are also drone concepts out there which are more of a tiltrotor design so there’s quite a few potential routes to take, each with pros and cons. The big attraction of… Read more »

Nate M
Nate M
18 days ago
Reply to  Lionel

Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t the uavs for the qe class ment to be able to take of from a em catapult?and land using arrestor wires?

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
18 days ago
Reply to  Nate M

Yes but clearly NOT the actual present emals cat and trap system that is presently available from the US which is as yet not actually reliable and would have been the only system available to have incorporated at build stage, which would have been a disaster as things turned out though if the carriers were 5+ years later just about a possibility which leaves us looking for a system sometime later this decade that won’t interfere with present ski jump launches and as such has time to mature. This request is for a system to do a job with less… Read more »

Peter S
Peter S
18 days ago

This makes no sense to me. The USN programme started with strike/ISR ambitions, with a stealthy airframe capable of penetrating defended airspace from long range and removing risk of pilot loss. Now the same airframe is to operate as a tanker to extend the range of manned F18+35. So the manned fighters will have to operate in contested airspace while the tanker loiters much further back. Why then bother with an unmanned tanker? The UK hope for UCAVS is different, focussed on AEW and strike. But we will have to install EMALS to operate them and then try to combine… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

It makes a lot of sense actually, going to strike UCAVs in one step proved (as many thought) to be too big a leap of technology and effort, hence an intermediate task builds the technology and experience of using them with a view to taking the step to strike UCAVs in the future. Given the costs and issues with Osprey and lack of wider development (described to me as “theoretically the best of both worlds, practically the worst of both”), tilt-rotors seem to be a dead end, so not worth investing in from our perspective – hence the shift to… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
18 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Indeed so, the Northrop Grumman strike UAV was a fantastic vehicle but rightly or wrongly the powers that be thought it too risky to go all in on it. This partial step even for the US is probably sensible but a stage to full strike capability.

BB85
BB85
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

We will always need manned aircraft in contested airspace as there are too many changeable scenarios that cannot be preprammed into an autonomous drone. I’m sure AI will eventually get there and we will face judgement day but until that happens manned fighters will remain and they need refuelled.
In terms of strike, sure that can be performed by autonomous drones or drones controlled remotely if there is no electronic interference.

Peter S
Peter S
18 days ago
Reply to  BB85

Agreed. I was simply querying the advantage of an unmanned tanker over a manned version. Perhaps it was to justify the amount already spent on UCAV development and testing.For UK the real need is for an improvement over Crowsnest. The Valor looks like a lower risk than trying to retrofit an EMALS system.

DaveyB
DaveyB
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

The two main advantages between two similarly sized aircraft, are increased duration and payload. A manned aircraft will need a cockpit plus environmental support systems to a help a pilot/crew operate over 15,000ft. These take up space and weight. Furthermore, the aircraft’s endurance is predominantly determined by pilot’s /crew’s fatigue. The unmanned version such as the Stingray can be set up on a race course pattern for a duration of over 8 hours. It can also be refueled in flight to extend the duration. The limiting factor will be how long the engine can operate continuously. For both the RAF… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
18 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

The problem is are any of these UCAVs certified for controlled airspace? That’s a massive effort as Protector shows. For the UK in terms of any training around the UK, it needs that capability. As for the perennial manned vs unmanned, not sure fatigue is the driver, given Tornados regularly did 9 hour sorties and that was engine limited. Yes it saves on a cockpit, but the human life support is really a fall out of avionics life support anyway. In terms of say pulling g, structural limits preclude this most of the time whilst something able to take more… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
17 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Following on from the X47 program, the MQ-25 is a pretty basic airframe. The sighting of the top ventral engine air intake has been done before. It will have issues if it does very hard banked turns. Though I’m sure Boeing have restricted the flight envelop, after all it’s only a tanker. When you compare it to the other Boeing Loyal Wingman program, it has a pair of intakes either side of the fuselage. This gives significantly less airflow disruption when doing hard maneuvers. The thoughts on the unmanned cockpit weight saving, includes maximizing the aircraft’s internal volume for fuel.… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
17 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Certification wont be in it at present as the US has no need for it, but see Protector for the level of effort that takes to add to something. Top intakes are primarily good for LO which betrays this UAV’s origins, together with the canted fins and airframe shaping. Ref banked turns, does anyone fly unbanked turns? even rudder alone still banks it whilst coordinating to stay level would be a sideslip turn, very uncomfortable and rather unpredictable! Intake blanking here is about alpha (angle of attack) which is pitch axis, only relevant to a turn if you are doing… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
17 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Ok, I’ll expand on that. What I mean by a banked turn is if it does anything past +3g or does a negative g turn. Either of these will cause airflow disruption over the top of the fuselage, probably leading to separation. If separation happens disrupting the laminar flow near the intake, the engine will be starved of air. The original purpose of the MQ-25 design was as a strike aircraft. This was a stealthy design, hence the flattened fuselage, top intake, V tail and rectangular exhaust. The design precludes hard maneuvers, as a highly banked turn will increase its… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
16 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

As I said, it doesnt appear to have much of a manoeuvre enevelope, although I’m still of the view that is probably primarily set by structural limits. Given its designed to land on a carrier it’ll have to pull alpha, and its that which will affect the flow on the top. The large wing flaps will help as will the (almost) straight wing and lifting body but all in all, with the canted all moving tailerons the only aerodynamic control surface, this clearly is of fairly limited agility hence the sense it is a medium level ISTAR type – strike… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

Because why develop a manned tanker if you can do an unamanned and get the same persistent albeit benign environment advantage that UAVs generally offer?

Other than envy of E2? What exactly is the requirment for replacing Crowsnest?

Valor looks like a cost and maintenance nightmare. It also takes up a lot of space.

Since it is barely at concept definition stage let alone in full develoment it is high risk, unless you just like American things and want them.

Peter S
Peter S
18 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

DASA have announced an out of service date for Crowsnest of 2029. The RN RFI is looking for proposals for a successor, probably autonomous.

Rogbob
Rogbob
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

They’ll barely have had it in service by then! That sounds like someone has had too much of the optimism pipe…

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
18 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

“ Valor looks like a cost and maintenance nightmare. It also takes up a lot of space” Based on what evidence? This is a second generation vehicle based on a first gen vehicle which is now in stable service. Don’t let historical prejudice obscure technology’s progress.

Rogbob
Rogbob
18 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Seriously? Look at it! Rotating drive shafts, two sets of propellors. Imagine the interconnects for the failure modes alone. Helicopters are mechanically complex, but this is an order above that. There is no magic technology that absolves this of the above fundamental complexity, which inherantly drives cost and reliability upwards. I know its all very exciting “sci-fi arrives in reality”, but in truth, I think these are just as much a dead end as the rotodyne was. Perhaps I’ll be wrong, but I think the US Army is in for a hell of a crunch when these projects come in… Read more »

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
17 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

Yup you will be wrong it’s the future babe get used to it. That’s technology we all love the old warm and cuddly stuff. But we evolve.

Rogbob
Rogbob
17 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

We also go down many dead ends, all the signs are this is one.

You can want it all you like if you dont look too hard at ir, but perhaps find out a bit more about reliability and maintainability, not to mention certification. If you’ve very deep pockets then perhaps waste some money on it as the US has, but even they have limits.

DaveyB
DaveyB
17 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

In some respects the Osprey and Valor are less complicated than a Chinook, ie 2 gearboxes vs 5. The synchronizing shaft that runs between the pylons will be about the same length as the Osprey cross wing drive shaft. The Osprey/Valor don’t need to worry about synchronization as the blades don’t intermesh. Maintenance wise the Valor will be easier than the Osprey, as lessons learned will included in its design. For instance only rotating the rotor hub instead of the engine and gearbox assembly. It will be interesting to see how the two competitors (Sikorsky and Bell) manage the costs.… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
17 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

The problem with helos is cost of maintenance due to mechanical complexity. That above all is why we cant have more. Driving up the complexity worsens that noting tilt rotor types have even more complexity to fold them to fit in anything Puma replacmeent although dull, will at least deliver cabs where and when needed. There is zero chance these designs will be cheaper than Blackhawk, I’d love to see anyome try to claim that and keep a straight face 🙂 As before, there will be a reckoning when those costs start to come in but just as with FCS,… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
17 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

A Chinook’s sync shaft is not solid. It is a number of short shafts joined together using flexible couplings. Like an aircraft wing, a Chinook bends from the middle, especially when lugging under-slung loads. If the shaft was solid it would fracture. It’s the same issue with the rear pylon. It can’t be much higher as there’s a single vertical shaft from the gearbox to the rotor head. When the aircraft is lifting a weight in the hover, this shaft will bend slightly as the aircraft takes up the weight. The height of the rear rotor head limits the aircraft’s… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
16 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

The point about the shaft is not that its a one piece solid (who suggested that?), but that its going laterally through a wing which given the objective here is to obtain the benefits of one, is trying and indeed, needs to bend independently and additionally to any mechanical or reaction forces/moments ala Chinook. The wing is also the goto place to store fuel and if we learnt anything from swept wings, its dont have moving mechanical components in them because its a maint nightmare – hence the shift to self contained actuators to avoid even having mechanical services in… Read more »

Steve R
Steve R
16 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

“Other than envy of E2? What exactly is the requirement for replacing Crowsnest?”

How about the Crowsnets’ much lower service ceiling, range and endurance?

Or that it takes up already-scarce Merlin platforms?

Merlin Crowsnest was only ever a “this will do for now” solution anyway. I don’t think it was ever a permanent solution.

Rogbob
Rogbob
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

And its deficiency vs Sea King Whisky that served siperbly for 35 years with those same attributes?

What do we give up to get this extra capability? Or is it just “more more more more”, noting moving from Harrier to F35 has been a very expensive growth.

Steve R
Steve R
16 days ago
Reply to  Rogbob

It did serve superbly, but there was literally no other option back then. EMALS didn’t exist and there was nothing else. I bet any carrier captain would have preferred something else had there been another choice, but there wasn’t. We made do, which our armed forces always do admirably. But with a larger carrier why limit ourselves to the same old options? Will Merlin Crowsnest do? Yes. However given better options such as MQ25 or the like, we should go for better. Higher service ceiling, longer range/endurance enables an AEW platform to see incoming threats from further away and to… Read more »

Rogbob
Rogbob
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

And again, at what cost do we add these capabilities and supporting infra? What else gives to fund them because we just got an unprecedented shot of extra dosh and it instantly vanished for current plans let alone more exotic dreams. If Corwsnest is good enough as you accept it is “it will do” and has been, lets put the funds elsewhere. Instead of spending billions on catapults and new airframes, why not just some more Merlins and spend the money on people (for once, goven they are actually the capbility not bits of metal) and/or more ships or weapons… Read more »

dan
dan
16 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

Very true. Crowsnest is the best the Brit’s can do at the moment given the restrictions of their CV without catapults. Against near peer enemies that have large AEW aircraft it will be totally overpowered.

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

PS agree. Any logical analysis would suggest that tilt rotors are the natural compliment to QE and her autonomous needs, however, the operative words are “logical analysis”. If we had the technology that we have now it is clear that helicopters would not have been invented! Tilt rotors beat them on all metrics.

Rogbob
Rogbob
18 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Including cost, complexibility and unreliability not to mention lack of safety in failure cases.

Hence why they havent been more widely adopted and are unlikely to be.

heroic
heroic
18 days ago

I can’t believe that little propeller on the drone’s engine is enough to get it off the ground, let alone be able to tow that F18  😮 

James Fennell
James Fennell
18 days ago
Reply to  heroic

That’s Artificial Intelligence for you – it can make great coffee too.

Last edited 18 days ago by James Fennell
dan
dan
18 days ago
Reply to  heroic

What propeller?

Dan
Dan
18 days ago
Reply to  dan

The turbine that powers the refueling pod – it’s a joke.

heroic
heroic
18 days ago
Reply to  Dan

Yes it is a joke, they should have fitted a bigger prop that way they wouldn’t have to develop a “get” which must be a sort of hybrid

donald_of_tokyo
donald_of_tokyo
18 days ago
Reply to  heroic

MQ-25A has a single get engine, Rolls-Royce AE 3007. The propeller on the pod is to be used for power to handle the drogue lines, not to drive the airplane.

Levi Goldsteinberg
Levi Goldsteinberg
18 days ago

That is amazing

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
18 days ago

Are these affordable or silly money like Global Hawk? And if so how many might the UK need for the AEW/AT role?

12? 3 for each QEC plus reserves.

Just throwing a figure out there.

Peter S
Peter S
18 days ago

The same US source gives 2 figures. $15b for development and procurement of a fleet of 72. $804m for first 4 and an exercised $87m option for 3 more. The option seems cheap. Without it, the unit price seems about $200m.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
18 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

200! That’s like Osprey. We won’t be getting many at that price.

Glass Half Full
Glass Half Full
17 days ago

A bit spendy isn’t it? And that’s on 72 of them, so I think we can rule out any discounts. It makes you wonder why its that costly … well apart from it being Boeing anyway.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
17 days ago

I’d read so much about future drones being more affordable I’d started believing in it too much. I appreciate the refuelling role is remarkable in itself.

Glass Half Full
Glass Half Full
17 days ago

Hopefully MQ-25 is an outlier. Granted Taranis was a while ago but that whole program inc R&D was reportedly £185 million for a custom one off evaluation platform, so one would like to think a production run of aircraft including manufacturer’s profit would bring in aircraft at much lower cost.

Mind you, looking at what the RN seem to want from their Vixen and Proteus fixed and rotary wing UAS respectively, we will probably be looking at relatively expensive platforms for those roles.

AV
AV
16 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

Yeah I read that too, couple in the EMALS cost for the QE etc the money looks to be on the Osprey despite its flight cost. However if the EMALS fit opened up autonomous AEW and the like surely the way to go?….dont think we know anymore than we did but will be interesting to see how this develops….regarding Crowsnest is that out of service date correct!?

Paul.P
Paul.P
18 days ago

Good work Boeing. In truth this technology has been needed for a long time. The strike radius of carrier based aircraft is not what it was in the days of the Buccaneer and anti ship defences have been steadily increasing in speed and reach. MQ-25 plus F-35B and hopefully AEW UAVs, makes QE, POW relevant strategic assets well into the future. Also a big reach extension for the US F-18s.

Deep32
Deep32
18 days ago

Slightly off topic, just read on @Flight Global, that the MOD have extended Merlin (all varients) OSD to 2040!!!

Glass Half Full
Glass Half Full
17 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

Makes sense and perhaps didn’t have much choice anyway. It allows for any slippage in the Crowsnest replacement, and also allows MOD to look at the FLRAA program and/or the new European medium lift program as replacement options for Merlin HM2 and HC4/4A. Probably also lets them assess what they want from the next platform in the context of working alongside whatever the Proteus RWUAS ends up being capable of.

Deep32
Deep32
17 days ago

Yes, I think many on here were probably expecting this at some point, just surprised at the low key short notice announcement!
Agree with you, opens up a whole raft of possibilities/options for the future which is sensible, just wonder where the extra flt hours have suddenly come from?

Martyn Parker
Martyn Parker
17 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

Is it known what hours the RAF Merlins had on them before transfer?

Deep32
Deep32
17 days ago
Reply to  Martyn Parker

Not sure exactly how many flt hrs they have pa, it’s not really my area, but don’t think we would be far wrong in assuming 200 hrs pa. Adding an extra 10 yrs life would equate to approx 2000 hrs per airframe, so I imagine they will receive some form of LEP to get them to 2040.

Martyn Parker
Martyn Parker
17 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

Sounds about right

Glass Half Full
Glass Half Full
17 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

It seems in hindsight that the March 2021 Maritime Enterprise Planning Group slides suggested a LEP with their FUTURE MARITIME AVIATION FORCE 2030 vision, where they stated that by 2030 –

“We will have rejuvenated the Merlin fleet, to synchronise with replacement capabilities, transferring PWAS/AEW/Data Node to VIXEN and ASW FIND to medium RWUAS (PROTEUS).”

Deep32
Deep32
15 days ago

Sorry mate totally missed this post!
Obviously missed this too, but then again this particular publication isn’t on my normal reading list!!!😂😂 Cheers for the update.👍

Nic
Nic
16 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

I wonder if they will extend the life of the Puma and wait until Defiant and Velour come into service

Deep32
Deep32
15 days ago
Reply to  Nic

I don’t think that they can mate, the last upgrade stretched things to its absolute limits I believe! Any further upgrades would be v costly, I believe the decision to buy new(including replacing some other legacy airframes) has been made and we are just waiting to see who the bidders are, before selecting it’s replacement.

TrevorH
TrevorH
17 days ago

Off topicish, I’ve not seen the trooping of the colour in recent years, but enjoyed it today.
Three cheers for the Queen.

Last edited 17 days ago by TrevorH
AV
AV
16 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

2nd that!

Nic
Nic
16 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

Yes for a scale down trooping of the colour it was very good.

borg
borg
16 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

And just how much did it all cost ? and how many poor people would it help and just how much money does she have and why all the Cheers ?

dan
dan
16 days ago
Reply to  borg

Because that’s what the vast majority of the British people want. Simple.

Herodotus
Herodotus
15 days ago
Reply to  dan

Yep

borg
borg
13 days ago
Reply to  Herodotus

Sad. so sad really.

borg
borg
13 days ago
Reply to  dan

So Sad. 😿 

Nic
Nic
16 days ago

If the Royal Navy go for drones of this size , They probably will only be able to operate from carriers or airfields because of the infrastructure that will be needed.