For the first time, a fighter used by the US Navy was refueled by an unmanned aircraft, a vehicle commonly referred to as a drone.
The test took place last Friday (4), but was not released by the Pentagon until Monday (7). An F / A-18 Super Hornet fighter, which had a pilot and a co-pilot, and the MQ-25 T1 drone, created by Boeing for the US military, took part in the action.
The two planes took off from an airport in the city of Mascoutah, Illinois. First, with the two flying at a speed that the Navy classified as relevant, the MQ-25 released the connecting pipe until it was attached to the F / A-18, which was only ‘six meters away – the idea was just to check if the system worked and therefore no fuel was transferred.
“The pilots wanted to see how stable it was to fly so close to the drone. They wanted to officially observe, with their own eyes, the behavior of the fuel tank and the pod. [de reabastecimento]”said Boeing director responsible for the project, Dave Bujold, according to DefenseNews.
The test being successful, the aircraft repeated the operation a short time later, this time at an altitude of 3,050 meters. After the hose was reconnected, the drone then transferred around 130 kilograms of fuel to the fighter.
The action was repeated once again, this time at 4,900 meters above the ground, with the transfer of 11 kilos of fuel. Throughout the operation, the two soldiers on board the fighter were in radio contact with the person in charge of controlling the drone on the ground.
The action lasted about 4 hours and 30 minutes, with the two planes connected for ten minutes. According to the Pentagon, the use of the drone will allow F / A-18s currently used for refueling to be released for other functions.
Testing, however, is still expected to continue for some time before use of the unmanned aircraft is allowed for military missions – which is not expected to happen until 2024.
By the end of the year, the Pentagon plans to conduct a series of new tests, including one in which the MQ-25 and the refueling fighter take off and return from an aircraft carrier.