The US Navy recently conducted its maiden ground test of the MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone, taking another step towards its deployment by 2024.
The Boeing craft is primarily intended for aerial refueling but also to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to the navy’s air wing, extending “the range, operational capacity, and lethality of the Carrier Air Wing and Carrier Strike Group.”
Boeing clinched an $805 million contract three years ago to develop four Stingrays by August 2024, beating out competitors such as General Atomics and Lockheed Martin.
The US defense giant and the navy conducted the aircraft prototype’s first flight in September 2019, followed by another flight last year where the aircraft flew with a refueling system. The drone carried the Cobham refueling pod system during its 2.5-hour flight. The Cobham is the same system the navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet carries when acting as a carrier-based refueler.
In June this year, development took another significant step when the aircraft refueled a Super Hornet mid-air, demonstrating its primary role.
Two months later, the drone demonstrated air refueling with another plane, as its stability was monitored before making contact. The Stingray later refueled an F-35C Lightning II in its third refueling test.
In the latest round of testing, the navy ran a “deck handling” test on the Stingray at the Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field, which involved switching on the engine, “power running and taxiing by controllers on the deck.”
Evaluators checked the aircraft’s maneuverability on board an aircraft carrier “using painted lines to section areas of the flight deck.”
To Relieve the Super Hornet
Naval Air Force Atlantic Rear Adm. John Meier declared that “the Stingray is the future of naval aviation. It is the first aircraft carrier-based unmanned air vehicle.”
“The ground testing is another step toward the teaming of manned and unmanned aircraft platforms. Integrating platforms like the MQ-25 into the air wing will increase their lethality and reach.”
Deployment of the Stingray will not only extend the carrier-based aircraft’s range but also relieve F/A-18s of their refueling role so they can return to their primary mission sets.