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Boeing's MQ-25 T1 drone refuels F-35 in third mid-air replenishment

By Jake Thomas
Boeing's MQ-25 T1 drone refuels F-35 in third mid-air replenishment
Boeing’s MQ-25 T1 test prototype transfers fuel to a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II fighter jet during the drone's third flight-test mission on Monday. Photo by Kevin Flynn/Boeing

Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Boeing said Tuesday it's used a MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aircraft to refuel a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II fighter jet for the first time.

This was the third mission in three months for the Boeing-owned aircraft that was built primarily for mid-air refueling missions.

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The T1 prototype refueled F/A-18 Super Hornet in June, making it the first time an unmanned aircraft refueled another aircraft in midair. In August, it refueled a E-2D Hawkeye.

During the test flight on Monday, a F-35C test pilot from the Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three successfully conducted a wake survey behind the T1 to ensure its stability before making contact with the unmanned aircraft's refueling drogue and receiving fuel.

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"This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 aircraft design," Dave Bujold, Boeing's MQ-25 program director, said in a press release.

"Thanks to this latest mission in our accelerated test program, we are confident the MQ-25 aircraft we are building right now will meet the Navy's primary requirement -- delivering fuel safely to the carrier air wing," Bujold said.

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The MQ-25 Stingray is expected to play an important role in extending the combat radius of carrier-based fighter jets by hundreds of miles, The National Interest reported.

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That's particularly important as China and Russia are investing heavily in anti-ship medium-range ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles, according to U.S. military officials.

First unveiled in December 2017, Boeing's unmanned aerial tanker is designed to refuel U.S. Navy jets. The company received a contract in 2018 to develop the unmanned tanker drones.

In the coming months, the T1 prototype will be in a deck-handling demonstration on a U.S. Navy carrier, according to Boeing.

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