The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command has ordered three MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrierborne tanker aircraft from Boeing. An April 2 modification to an existing contract, the $84.7 million deal adds three System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTAs), bringing the number of Stingrays now on order to seven. The first four Engineering Development Model (EDM) aircraft were ordered in an $805 million contract awarded in August 2018, when the Boeing design was selected as the winner of the CBARS (carrier-based aerial refueling system) competition. This latest batch is expected to be complete by August 2024.
“We’re honored to have the Navy’s confidence in our system design and performance that is evident from this additional order,” said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director. “This order establishes uninterrupted production of the first MQ-25 aircraft and lines up with the Navy’s MQ-25 test and training plans for fleet introduction. The MQ-25 program is vital in ensuring the Navy can deliver a critical unmanned aerial refueling capability to the carrier air wing.”
Ahead of building the EDMs, Boeing constructed a test vehicle at its own expense to validate systems and software intended for the production MQ-25A, which is powered by the Rolls-Royce AE3007N turbofan that is similar to the powerplant of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned maritime patroller. Known as “Tail 1,” or T1, the company-funded air vehicle first flew on Sept. 19, 2019, at Mascoutah, Illinois. The company reports that T1 has flown for nearly 30 hours, during which it has been tested at various speeds and altitudes.
Currently the aircraft is back in the workshop being modified to carry the aerial refueling store (ARS) that will allow the Stingray to pass fuel to Navy receivers such as the F-35C and F/A-18E/F. Flight trials with the ARS installed under the port wing are due to begin later this year.
Data from trials with T1 are being used to accelerate and de-risk the final development of the EDMs and SDTAs, adding to the confidence that the program can meet its aggressive timeline. Boeing expects to deliver the first EDM to the Navy for developmental test and evaluation in 2021, with initial operational capability slated for 2024. Navy planning suggests a total of 72 MQ-25As will be procured.