The U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) programme completed its first aerial refuelin of an F-35C Lightning II aircraft by the Boeing-owned MQ-25 test asset, known as T1, as part of the U.S. Navy’s broader initiative to field unmanned systems that “transform and enhance the fleet’s capability, capacity and lethality”.
This event marked the third refueling flight for the T1 test aircraft. During the three-hour flight, a U.S. Navy F-35C pilot from Air Test Wing and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) approached T1, performed formation evaluations, wake surveys, drogue tracking and plugged with the MQ-25 test asset at 225 knots calibrated airspeed and altitude of 10,000 feet.
“From the ground control station, an air vehicle operator then initiated the fuel transfer from T1’s aerial refueling store to the F-35C. Once operational, MQ-25 will refuel every receiver-capable carrier-based aircraft. Each unique aircraft platform will have a different aerodynamic interaction in the wake of MQ-25. Conducting refueling test missions with various aircraft allows the program to analyze data and determine if any adjustments to guidance and control are required.
“The MQ-25 will be the first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft and will provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to support the Air Wing of the Future – a mix of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft, manned and unmanned platforms, and netted sensors and weapons.”
Earlier this summer, the programme completed unmanned refueling missions with an F/A-18 Super Hornet and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. Each aircraft platform is aerodynamically unique so how they respond in the wake of a tanker is different.