The US Navy has made aviation history, using an unmanned drone to refuel a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet in midair. The Boeing-made drone briefly docked with the fighter jet via a hose, to show the viability of the new technique.
The test flight took place on Friday from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, with the aim to conduct carrier-based tests later this year. The drone, known as an MQ-25 Stingray, was just 20 feet away from the nose of the fighter during the refueling exercise.
During the 4.5-hour test flight, the drone transferred 325 lbs of the 500 lbs of fuel it was carrying, proving that the drone-based refueling is viable for long-term use.
With the US military refueling in midair over much of the country, they’re always looking for ways to make the inherently dangerous maneuver safer for pilots. It’s even more fraught with danger in combat areas, and the Navy is hoping that the unmanned drones will free up combat pilots which currently have to fly the refueling missions.
What’s possibly more interesting than the actual test is how open the Navy has been about the tests, with footage uploaded to Twitter, with official press releases on both Boeing and the Navy’s websites.
The US military has traditionally kept testing under wraps of military secrets, with the public only finding out years later after the declassification of official documents.
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