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Tests ordered for UAV aerial refueling

July 2, 2010 at 1:10 PM

SAN DIEGO, July 2 (UPI) -- Northrop Grumman has been given a contract to demonstrate aerial refueling of a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle by a sister aircraft.

The contract for the project to refuel a NASA drone was issued by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the company said Thursday.

Northrop Grumman plans to retrofit two of the high-altitude aircraft for the project. Fuel will be pumped through a hose-and-drogue system and the refueling out will be completely autonomous, it said.

"Demonstrating the refueling of one UAV by another is a historic milestone," said Carl Johnson, vice president, Advanced Concepts for the company's Aerospace Systems. "It adds refueling to the list of capabilities that can be accomplished automatically by Global Hawks; it opens the door to greatly expanded operational utility for UAVs; and, as a side benefit, it promises to increase the safety and reliability of aerial refueling between manned aircraft by reducing pilot workload."

The refueling program is designated KQ-X.

Northrop Grumman said the refueling would take place at a much higher altitude than that of manned aircraft. It would also be the first time UAVs have flown in formation.

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