Boeing MQ-25 Stingray drone refuels F-35 fighter jet for the first time


The MQ-25 T1 test asset developed by Boeing refueled an F-35C Lightning II fighter jet of the US Navy, demonstrating its ability to accomplish the primary mission of aerial refueling.

The test flight took place on September 13, 2021, near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport (BLV) in Illinois, United States. A pilot belonging to the US Navy’s Air Test Wing and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) flew the F-35C behind the MQ-25 to perform aerodynamic tests, before plugging with the test asset. An operator then initiated the fuel transfer from the Stingray to the fighter jet.

“Every T1 flight with another Type/Model/Series aircraft gets us one step closer to rapidly delivering a fully mission-capable MQ-25 to the fleet,” said Captain Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. “Stingray’s unmatched refueling capability is going to increase the Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the carrier strike group commanders.”

The latest test flight was already the third MQ-25 T1 refueling mission. It refueled a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter in June 2021 and an E-2D Hawkeye in August 2021. Eventually, the MQ-25 will be able to refuel all carrier-capable aircraft of the US Navy. 

The test asset will now receive deck handling equipment ahead of its first demonstration aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier, scheduled for the coming months.

Birthed from the remains of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program, which was canceled due to budget constraints, the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBAR) aims to offer an innovative solution to tanking missions of the U.S. Navy. The MQ-25 Stingray will be used in the future as an unmanned aerial refueler, capable of making medium-distance flights and aerial refueling of fighters.


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