F/A-18 pilot can command MQ-25 for refueling

Boeing has advanced its manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) technology using a digital F/A-18 Super Hornet and MQ-25 Stingray. The testing shows the software is maturing for future US Navy use and a potential to deploy the teaming capability on both F/A-18 Block II and III Super Hornets.

In a simulator lab, a Boeing-led team virtually demonstrated an F/A-18 pilot commanding an unmanned MQ-25 to release a refueling drogue and refuel the Super Hornet, using existing communications links on both platforms.

The new software is a maturation of tests Boeing has previously done. In addition to the upgraded software, test teams pulled in hardware and datalinks already installed on both platforms to run the finalized software further proving Boeing’s readiness to deliver this capability to the Navy.

F/A-18 pilot can command MQ-25 unmanned aerial tanker for aerial refueling
A Boeing F/A-18 systems pilot demonstrates the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) capability from his simulator cockpit. The Boeing-led team virtually demonstrated an F/A-18 pilot commanding an unmanned MQ-25 to release a refueling drogue and refuel the Super Hornet, using existing communications links on both platforms.

“MQ-25 is designed to typically receive commands from air vehicle pilots on an aircraft carrier. This software will add a second option, enabling pilots to initiate commands right from their cockpit,” said Alex Ewing, F/A-18 New Product Development lead, in a Boeing news release.

The MQ-25 Stingray

The Boeing-created software will significantly reduce the time it takes for an F/A-18 to communicate with an MQ-25, giving pilots greater flexibility in refueling from longer distances.

“The goal of the demonstrations was to make MUM-T refueling as real as possible,” said Juan Cajigas, director, Advanced MQ-25 program. “Aerial refueling is like a ballet as two airplanes come together. To be able to direct the activities via a single pilot, safely and efficiently, is a major step forward in aerial refueling technology.”

F/A-18 pilot can command MQ-25 unmanned aerial tanker for aerial refueling
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The Stingray will be the world’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft and provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that greatly expand the global reach, operational flexibility and lethality of the carrier air wing and carrier strike group. The MQ-25 is foundational to the Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework and is the first step toward a future fleet augmented by unmanned systems to pace the evolving challenges of the 21st century.

The MQ-25 will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters and helping extend the range of the carrier air wing.

Along with organic tanking, the MQ-25 will pave the way for MUM-T of carrier-based aircraft that will extend the strike range and enhance maneuverability.

The US Navy F/A-18 that shot down a crewless US Navy E-2C to prevent it from crashing in a populated area
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Photo credit: Kevin Flynn / Boeing