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.