Sept. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling aircraft successfully completed its first test flight, manufacturer Boeing Co. announced this week.
The tanker drone completed its two-hour flight at its test program base at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., on Thursday, the company said in a press release.
The aircraft completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff, and then flew a pre-determined route to demonstrate its basic flight functions and operations, and communications with the ground control station. The carrier-based aircraft is designed to fuel fighter planes in midflight without the aid of a pilot, extending the combat range of deployed F/A-18, EA-18G and F-35C planes.
"Seeing MQ-25 in the sky is a testament to our Boeing and Navy team working the technology, systems and processes that are helping get MQ-25 to the carrier," said Dave Bujold, Boeing program director.
"This aircraft and its flight test program ensures we're delivering the MQ-25 to the carrier fleet with the safety, reliability and capability the U.S. Navy needs to conduct its vital mission," Bujold said.
The Navy began its efforts to develop an aircraft carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle in 2006. Its goal is to deploy a total of 72 MQ-25 tanker drones at a cost of about $13 billion. Officials expect the fleet to be partly operational by 2024.