Boeing tested manned-unmanned teaming between MQ-25 refueling drone and F/A-18 fighter jet.

The test took place during a demonstration sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. In a virtual environment, simulators of a F/A-18 fighter jet, and an E-2D command-and-control aircraft were connected with another simulator that used flight software of the MQ-25 Stingray drone.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions were played out, with the drone acting as an autonomous air tanker for the jet. Guided by the commands of E-2D and the pilot of the F/A-18, it performed successfully.

Currently, the majority of drone operations are conducted with either direct control or close supervision of ground-based operators. The first successful MQ-25 refueling operation, which took place on June 7, 2021, has been performed in this manner as well.

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According to Boeing, in the simulation test, the virtual MQ-25 acted on its own, listening only to the guidance from the two aircraft it was teamed with.

The mission marks a step not only towards the MQ-25 being integrated into the US Navy carrier operations, but the manned-unmanned teaming being used for other kinds of drones as well.

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