A drone refuels a fighter jet for the first time

A few days ago, a drone refueled an American jet fighter for the first time in flight. Other tests, which are the result of a collaboration between the US Air Force and Boeing, are planned in the coming months before considering the integration of these drones into military tank operations.

A drone to refuel an unmanned fighter plane

Experienced in the 1920s, in-flight refueling involves transferring fuel from one aircraft to another in flight via a probe. The procedure, now essential in the context of military operations, allows the refueled aircraft to: extend autonomy while you allow higher takeoff weight. So far, these delicate operations have required two aircraft, but also two pilots. But for how long?

The June 4an MQ-25, a drone specially designed by Boeing for aerial refueling that made its mark in September 2019, did indeed refuel a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet after it was launched from MidAmerica airport from Mascoutah, Illinois (USA).

During this test, the F/A-18 test pilot flew in close formation behind the MQ-25 drone to ensure performance and stability before refueling. The two aircraft, flying at operationally relevant speeds and altitude, came within about six meters of each other. The drone then released its boom, which then connected the Super Hornet to receive fuel.

A real asset to the US Air Force

It is the first time that such an operation has been tested in flight. In the future, military drones, which are currently deployed for reconnaissance or target elimination missions, can therefore are used for refueling fighter aircraft. The aircraft and their pilots normally responsible for these operations may be reassigned to other fronts.

« This historic event is a credit to our joint Boeing and Navy team as they work to deliver critical MQ-25 air-to-air refueling capability to the fleet as quickly as possible.said Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. Their work is the driving force behind the secure integration of unmanned systems in the near future of defense operations.« .

drone refuel
The MQ-25 T1 transfers fuel to the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet on June 4. Credit: Kevin Flynn

The same drone will now be used for several test flights in the coming months. It will then be shipped to Norfolk, Virginia (USA), for testing on a US Navy aircraft carrier.