In August 2018, Boeing was awarded an $805 million contract from the U.S. Navy for the development of an ‘unmanned aerial refueler.’ The resulting MQ-25 autonomous refueler drone has successfully completed its first test flight, according to Boeing, which plans to produce four of these aircraft for the U.S. Navy. The test included an autonomous takeoff and flight.
The successful test flight involved Boeing’s T1, an MQ-25 test asset. According to the company, the test flight lasted two hours and involved Boeing pilots in a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport operating the drone. The aircraft’s route was pre-determined and intended to validate the drone’s basic operations and functions.
The test asset, according to Boeing, is a predecessor for the upcoming engineering development model aircraft; the company is using the T1 ‘for early learning,’ among other things. Ultimately, though, the company will produce four MQ-25 aircraft for the U.S. Navy to use on its carriers.
Boeing MQ-25 Program Director Dave Bujold explained:
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. 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.
The Navy intends to use its unmanned refueler aircraft for refueling purposes, enabling it to put the combat strike fighters it currently uses for this purpose to better use. The Navy anticipates receiving its first MQ-25 drone in around two years.