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Boeing’s robotic refueling drone aces test flight

Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone successfully completed its first test flight today, marking a big step toward providing the Navy with robotic refuelers for carrier-based warplanes.

The test aircraft, known as T1, went through a two-hour autonomous flight that was conducted under the direction of Boeing test pilots at a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., Boeing and the Navy reported in a news release.

Boeing said T1 completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff, and then flew a predetermined route to validate the aircraft’s basic flight functions and operations with the ground station.

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Boeing wins $805M contract for refueling drones

MQ-25 drone
Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueler, known as T1, is currently being tested at Boeing’s St. Louis site. T1 has completed engine runs and deck handling demonstrations designed to prove the agility and ability of the aircraft to move around within the tight confines of a carrier deck. (Boeing Photo / Eric Shindelbower)

After a months-long competition with the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing has won a $805.3 million contract from the Pentagon to build the first four MQ-25A autonomous refueling planes for the Navy.

The MQ-25 Stingray is meant to refuel Navy fighter jets such as the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II in midair to extend their range. It will be tasked with delivering about 15,000 pounds of fuel, 500 nautical miles out from an aircraft carrier. That should give fighters an additional 300 to 400 miles of flight range over what they have now.

The drones will launch and land on aircraft carriers, so they’ll have to integrate with the Navy’s catapult launch and recovery systems.

Boeing was in competition for the contract with two teams that were led by Lockheed Martin and General Atomics. Northrop Grumman was invited to submit a bid, but dropped out of the competition last October.

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