Boeing has announced the successful first flight of the MQ-25 Stingray. The first test example (T1) of the unmanned aerial refueler for the U.S. Navy made a successful two-hour flight from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, on September 19.
During the sortie, T1 taxied and took off autonomously before flying a pre-determined route and recovering. In the course of the mission, basic flight and control functions were validated, as well as communications and control from a ground station. Although the flight was conducted autonomously, Boeing test pilots directed the mission from the ground throughout.
“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 Boeing MQ-25 Program Director Dave Bujold. “This aircraft, and its flight test program, ensure 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.”
Boeing was awarded an $805 million contract to build the MQ-25 in August 2018. The contract covers four engineering development model (EDM) aircraft. MQ-25 T1 is a company-funded test vehicle that precedes the EDM machines, feeding information into the program and validating systems and software in the effort to meet the accelerated acquisition plans of the U.S. Navy.
T1 was trucked the 40 miles to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in April from Boeing’s main plant at St. Louis-Lambert Field. The airport is a two-runway, dual-use facility shared with Scott Air Force Base. Compared with Lambert Field, MidAmerica offers far lower traffic volumes and is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of testing unmanned aircraft. Registered N234MQ, T1 was awarded an experimental airworthiness certificate by the FAA in September following ground trials.
In Navy service, the MQ-25 will be employed as a carrier-based tanker, supporting F/A-18E/F and F-35C strike fighters. Currently, the role is performed by Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets loaded in the “five wet” configuration with four external fuel tanks and a “buddy” refueling pod. While the versatile Super Hornet is adequate for the role, it is not as efficient as a dedicated tanker, and its employment for air refueling reduces the number of Super Hornets available to the air wing for fighter/strike duties.
“Today’s flight is an exciting and significant milestone for our program and the Navy,” said Captain Chad Reed, manager of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation office (PMA-268). “The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders.”