On December 19, Boeing launched the first of its MQ-25 “Stingray” prototype entrant, an unmanned aircraft for the model new century designed to refuel Navy jets flying from carriers. Developed at their secretive “Phantom Works” facility, it’s the opening salvo inside the MQ-25 rivals between Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics to assemble a fleet of drone tankers capable of taking off and landing from an aircraft carrier.

Whichever agency will get awarded the Stingray contract, it must be succesful to ship 15,000 kilos of gasoline to fighters inside 500 miles of the carrier.

As many as 76 of these aircraft might be constructed by whoever wins the contract, in response to The Washington Post, and they also’re anticipated to be a part of their robotic brethren and enter operation inside the mid-2020s. Hoping to steer clear of an pricey boondoggle identical to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Navy will “fly before buy” with a purchase order order of four prototypes to whoever wins the contract to ensure the aircraft can meet this technique’s specs.

This particular drone hasn’t flown however, although Boeing says it’s totally sensible. Next up are engine assessments on the underside and deck coping with practices.
General Atomics has launched some concept paintings for their entrant, based on their Sea Avenger program, nonetheless Boeing is the first to level out off an exact prototype. “Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” acknowledged retired admiral Don “BD” Gaddis of Phantom Works. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

The Stingray program will help carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, EA-18G Growler digital assault aircraft, and the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. “The MQ-25 will give us the ability to extend the air wing out probably 300 or 400 miles beyond where we typically go,” acknowledged Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker in an interview with the naval journal Proceedings. “That will extend the reach of the air wing, and when we combine that with additional weapons we are buying, we will get an impressive reach.”

As The War Zone weblog notes, the MQ-25 program is desperately needed to interchange the current aerial refueling missions fulfilled by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The ensuing stress of near-continuous operation has impacted the effectiveness of the Super Hornet aircraft, with solely 30% of them struggle ready.

“The readiness level for [the Super Hornet] community has been on a declining trend for the last few years,” Shoemaker instructed Congress in November. “We’ve been forced to take risks in maintenance and production.”

Final proposals to the Navy from all three companies are due by January 3.

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