MQ-25 T1 Mid-Air Refueling Drone -- First Flight

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  • #1
berkeman
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This is really cool, IMO. They now can use drones launched off of aircraft carriers to do mid-air refueling of aircraft. The video shows a land-based launch and recovery of the drone, although it looks like the landing was arrested by a regular aircraft carrier cable.

https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2...t-ever-aerial-refueling-with-unmanned-tanker/

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  • #2
berkeman
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The video shows a land-based launch and recovery of the drone, although it looks like the landing was arrested by a regular aircraft carrier cable.
Ah, I see now farther down in the article that the T1 version is the first test version, and is only meant for land-based flight operations (to test out the mid-air refueling and flight stability aspects of the design). The next version will be hardened for carrier operations:
In the fall or winter of 2022, Boeing will deliver to the Navy the first of seven engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) UAVs that will conduct more thorough testing. Boeing’s T1 test vehicle has the same outer mold line and engine as the MQ-25 and therefore can conduct aerodynamic testing and begin to practice the procedures of aerial refueling, but it is not outfitted with carrier landing gear and has not been hardened for carrier landings or operations in a saltwater environment.

The first seven MQ-25 vehicles will be able to pick up the testing program from T1 and conduct test flights from a carrier and over the ocean beginning in 2023.
 
  • #3
anorlunda
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I'm sure all the military pilots are chewing their fingernails worrying if the next generation of warplanes will be manned or unmanned.
 
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FactChecker
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The Navy refueling method requires the fighter to do the tricky flying during refueling. The drone just flies straight and the fighter has to fly to connect. This is different from the Airforce method. I would think that the tricky part for the drone is landing back on a pitching carrier in heavy seas.
 
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boneh3ad
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The Navy refueling method requires the fighter to do the tricky flying during refueling. The drone just flies straight and the fighter has to fly to connect. This is different from the Airforce method. I would think that the tricky part for the drone is landing back on a pitching carrier in heavy seas.

This is a solved problem, though. We already have carrier-bases UAVs.
 
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This is a solved problem, though. We already have carrier-bases UAVs.
I wonder what kind of conditions are they cleared for. When there are planes trying to land at night in bad weather is when the tankers are critically needed to get the planes down safely. Are the drones able to land in those conditions?
 
  • #7
anorlunda
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I wonder what kind of conditions are they cleared for. When there are planes trying to land at night in bad weather is when the tankers are critically needed to get the planes down safely. Are the drones able to land in those conditions?

If the Navy bought them for carrier duty, it would make no sense having them for fair weather only. But in extreme conditions, they would be expendable, whereas manned aircraft are not.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davida...eam-up-with-stealth-fighters/?sh=5b6fc41b75e2
The U.S. Navy is spending $13 billion buying 72 MQ-25 Stingray tanker drones for its 11 aircraft carriers. The idea is for the Boeing BA +1.1%-made MQ-25s to refuel manned fighters, extending their range while also relieving the fighter squadrons of their own tanking duties.
 
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  • #8
boneh3ad
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I wonder what kind of conditions are they cleared for. When there are planes trying to land at night in bad weather is when the tankers are critically needed to get the planes down safely. Are the drones able to land in those conditions?

I guess I should walk my statement back slightly. We have had experimental carrier-bases UAVs that have successfully landed on carriers. The MQ-25A would be the first fully-fielded system. I don't know under what range of conditions the experimental conditions have worked.
 
  • #9
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If the Navy bought them for carrier duty, I can't imagine it would make no sense having them for fair weather only. But in extreme conditions, they would be expendable, whereas manned aircraft are not.
I'm sure they don't need perfect weather, but not so sure how they would do in extreme weather. I guess if they have a link to the carrier that tells them the carrier pitch rate they might be better at it than a pilot would be. I have never seen anything about them landing on a severely pitching carrier. I have only seen videos of them landing with calm seas.
 
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berkeman
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  • #11
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I still can't find much about landing in really bad conditions. There are a couple of comments, but nothing indicating how bad the conditions can be. Would it need digital control of the throttle? A drone would have that, but I am not sure which airplanes do. Even if drones have it, I wonder what the lags are. I am wondering about landing in situations like in this video.
 
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  • #12
hmmm27
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I would think that the tricky part for the drone is landing back on a pitching carrier in heavy seas.
ACME Butterfly Net - Large : Capistrano model.

They're probably just testing software : doesn't really seem to be efficient in terms of refueling a squadron. Much better for emergencies, though, IMO.
 
  • #13
berkeman
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doesn't really seem to be efficient in terms of refueling a squadron.
The article says that they are replacing F/A-18 refueling planes and crews, so it looks like some carrier ops are not using large tanker aircraft (maybe they are in places without nearby land bases where the tankers can fly out of).

Once fielded, the MQ-25 will operate from aircraft carriers, refueling the air wing operating at sea and relieving the Super Hornet fleet of the tanking mission, which the Navy has said can at times account for more than one-third of Super Hornet flight hours during carrier air wing operations.
 

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