The U.S. Navy and Boeing have used the MQ-25TM T1 test asset to refuel a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II fighter jet for the first time, once again demonstrating the aircraft’s ability to achieve its primary aerial refueling mission.
This was the third refueling mission for the Boeing-owned test asset in just over three months, advancing the test program for the U.S. Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft. T1 refueled an F/A-18 Super Hornet in June and an E-2D Hawkeye in August.
«Every test flight with another Type/Model/Series aircraft gets us one step closer to rapidly delivering a fully mission-capable MQ-25 Stingray to the fleet», said Captain Chad Reed, the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. «Stingray’s unmatched refueling capability is going to increase the U.S. Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the Carrier Strike Group commanders».
During a test flight September 13, an F-35C Lightning II test pilot from the U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) conducted a successful wake survey behind T1 to ensure performance and stability before making contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue and receiving fuel.
«This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 Stingray aircraft design», said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray program director. «Thanks to this latest mission in our accelerated test program, we are confident the MQ-25 Stingray aircraft we are building right now will meet the U.S. Navy’s primary requirement – delivering fuel safely to the carrier air wing».
The T1 flight test program began in September 2019 with the aircraft’s first flight. In the following two years, the test program completed more than 120 flight hours – gathering data on everything from aircraft performance to propulsion dynamics to structural loads and flutter testing for strength and stability.
MQ-25 Stingray is benefitting from the two years of early flight test data, which has been integrated back into its digital models to strengthen the digital thread connecting aircraft design to production to test to operations and sustainment. Boeing is currently manufacturing the first two MQ-25 Stingray test aircraft.
T1 will be used to conduct a deck handling demonstration aboard a U.S. Navy carrier in the coming months to help advance the carrier integration progress.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, successfully conducted its first flight test of an Air-Launched Effects (ALE) drone based on the company’s Coyote uncrewed aircraft system design. The ALE air vehicle design meets the U.S. Army’s defined specifications for size, weight and power requirements for the Future Vertical Lift program.
For the test, the team demonstrated a launch of an ALE configuration intended for the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. The ALE air vehicle was ground launched from the canister, spread its wings, and accomplished stable flight. All test objectives were achieved, including low-altitude launch, wing and flight surface deployment, and stable air vehicle flight control.
«Leveraging the maturity of the Coyote design, we are well-positioned to offer the Army a reliable, sustainable and cost-effective air-launched effects air vehicle», said Tom Laliberty, vice president of Land Warfare & Air Defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. «Our solution’s modular open systems architecture design means it can rapidly integrate new technologies to take on advanced threats and protect aircrews in future high-end fights».
The launch was the first in a series of increasingly complex, near-term flight tests that will advance the ALE air vehicle’s design, including payload integration, and further demonstrate its performance and maturity.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense is one of three companies awarded Other Transaction Authority contracts in August 2020 to produce ALE air vehicle designs. Raytheon Technologies businesses were also chosen for projects aimed at developing ALE mission systems and payloads.
Northrop Grumman Corporation and Martin UAV (a Shield AI company) have completed successful flight testing of a V-BAT Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) with new features including GPS-denied navigation and target designation capabilities.
«The enhanced V-BAT offers a near zero footprint, flexible Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capability that is based on a platform deployed operationally today, to address the U.S. Army’s Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) mission», said Kenn Todorov, sector vice president and general manager, global sustainment and modernization, Northrop Grumman. «The team brings more than 30 years’ experience in the production, delivery and sustainment of unmanned aircraft systems to support this critical mission today and into the future».
For FTUAS, the U.S. Army is seeking a rapidly deployable, GPS-denied navigation-capable, expeditionary VTOL system capable of persistent aerial reconnaissance for U.S. Army Brigade Combat Teams, Special Forces, and Ranger battalions.
The offering is based on the industry leading Martin UAV V-BAT UAS. It is compact, lightweight, simple to operate, and can be set up, launched and recovered by a two-soldier team in confined environments. The V-BAT also is designed with sufficient payload capacity to carry a range of interchangeable payloads, including Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and Electronic Warfare (EW) payloads, depending on mission-specific requirements. Additionally, Shield AI’s recent acquisition of Martin UAV will enable rapid development of GPS-denied and autonomy capabilities for V-BAT through the future porting of Shield AI’s autonomy stack, Hivemind onto V-BAT.
Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.
PteroDynamics, an aircraft design and manufacturing company that develops innovative Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, is on August 23, 2021 announcing it has secured a contract with Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) to deliver 3 VTOL prototypes for the Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS (BWUAS) program.
In 2018, Military Sealift Command and Fleet Forces Command identified a need for the United States Navy to develop a capability to autonomously deliver cargo with an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to and from ships at sea. Their analysis found that 90% of critical repair cargo delivered at sea by helicopters and V-22 Osprey aircraft weighed less than 50 pounds/22.7 kg. A VTOL UAS can fill this critical need and free the manned aircraft to perform other higher priority missions.
«We are honored to be selected for this important project», said Matthew Graczyk, PteroDynamics’ CEO. «This contract is the start of an important partnership, and we look forward to delivering the prototypes to NAWCAD».
PteroDynamics is a US-based aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Southern California
«This is an exciting milestone for our distinctive VTOL aircraft», added Val Petrov, PhD, PteroDynamics’ founder and CTO. «Our design is well suited for operations on ships where windy conditions and tight spaces challenge other VTOL aircraft during takeoffs and landings».
«Using unmanned, autonomous aircraft for delivery of these critical payloads is an important capability for the Navy to have», said Blue Water’s project lead, Bill Macchione. «The innovative design of PteroDynamics offers significant potential for both military and civilian missions».
The U.S. Navy and Boeing have completed a second carrier-based aircraft unmanned refueling mission with the Boeing-owned MQ-25TM T1 test asset, this time refueling a Navy E-2D Hawkeye command and control aircraft.
During a test flight from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport on August 18, pilots from the U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-20 conducted a successful wake survey behind MQ-25 T1 to ensure performance and stability before making contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue. The E-2D Hawkeye received fuel from T1’s aerial refueling store during the flight.
«Once operational the MQ-25 Stingray will refuel every receiver-capable platform, including E-2D Hawkeye», said Captain Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. «This flight keeps us on a fast track to getting the Stingray out to the fleet where its refueling capability will greatly increase the range and operational flexibility of the carrier air wing and strike group».
The MQ-25 Stingray will be assigned to the carrier airborne early warning squadron within the carrier air wing, which currently operates the E-2 C/D Hawkeye aircraft – known as the «digital quarterback» of the fleet for its role in joint battle management and command and control.
«It was another great flight showing that our MQ-25 Stingray design is performing to plan», said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray program director. «These historic refueling flights provide an incredible amount of data we feed back into the MQ-25 Stingray digital models to ensure the aircraft we’re producing will be the U.S. Navy’s game-changer for the carrier air wing».
This is the second aerial refueling mission the MQ-25 Stingray team has conducted this summer. On June 4, the MQ-25 T1 test asset became the first unmanned aircraft to refuel another aircraft, a U.S. Navy Super Hornet. Both flights were conducted at operationally relevant speeds and altitudes, with the E-2D Hawkeye and F/A-18 Super Hornet performing maneuvers in close proximity to MQ-25 T1.
Boeing is currently manufacturing the first two of seven MQ-25 Stingray test aircraft and two ground test articles currently under contract. The Boeing-owned MQ-25 T1 test asset is a predecessor to these aircraft. The MQ-25 Stingray is leveraging advancements in model-based digital engineering and design, and ongoing flights are intended to test aircraft design and performance much earlier than traditional programs.
Schiebel Aircraft and Areté Associates, successfully showcased the CAMCOPTER S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS) combined with Areté’s Pushbroom Imaging Lidar for Littoral Surveillance (PILLS) sensor to the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR).
In a combined demonstration sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) on a commercial vessel off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Schiebel and Areté demonstrated the CAMCOPTER S-100 and its capabilities, as well as Areté’s Push-broom Imaging Lidar for Littoral Surveillance (PILLS) system.
PILLS enables hydrographic mapping of ocean littoral spaces with a low Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) sensor that easily integrates into the S-100. PILLS has multiple military and commercial applications.
Hans Georg Schiebel, Chairman of the Schiebel Group, said: «We are proud that we could successfully showcase the outstanding capabilities and data-gathering features of our CAMCOPTER S-100 to the US Navy. Globally, we operate extensively on land and at sea and we are confident that our unmanned solution is also the right fit for the U.S. Navy».
About the CAMCOPTER S-100
Schiebel’s CAMCOPTER S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS) is an operationally proven capability for military and civilian applications. The Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) UAS requires no prepared area or supporting equipment to enable launch and recovery. It operates by day and by night, under adverse weather conditions, with a beyond line-of-sight capability out to 108 NM/124 miles/200 km, over land and sea. Its carbon fibre and titanium fuselage provides capacity for a wide range of payload/endurance combinations up to a service ceiling of 5,500 m/18,000 feet. In a typical configuration, the CAMCOPTER S-100 carries a 34-kg/75-lbs. payload up to 10 hours and is powered with AVGas or JP-5 heavy fuel. High-definition payload imagery is transmitted to the control station in real time. In addition to its standard GPS waypoint or manual navigation, the S-100 can successfully operate in environments where GPS is not available, with missions planned and controlled via a simple point-and-click graphical user interface. The high-tech unmanned helicopter is backed by Schiebel’s excellent customer support and training services.
But if remotely piloted aircraft have made themselves irreplaceable, they also can’t stop evolving.
One reason is that not every combat environment will be as friendly as the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. and allied aircraft enjoyed supremacy. For another, the jobs that commanders need done grow more complex by the year.
The good news is that GA-ASI is keeping ahead of those needs. Our newest technologies enable capabilities that no remotely piloted aircraft ever had before. They’re joining the hunt for hostile submarines under the ocean’s surface and releasing defensive countermeasures to protect themselves from enemy fire, just like a human-crewed fighter.
The MQ-9B SkyGuardian and variants also can integrate into a nation’s civil airspace in a way no remotely operated aircraft ever could before, vastly improving the way users can add these aircraft to their surveillance or other operations. The ability to fly the MQ-9B in and among normal British air traffic was one reason why it was selected to be the new platform of choice by the Royal Air Force: The Protector.
Our remotely piloted aircraft can even accommodate their own, small unmanned aerial systems, often known simply as SUAS. If the past 20 years has brought the golden age of large UAS, the coming 20 years will represent the evolution of their little brothers.
For example, GA-ASI has developed one game-changing SUAS known as Sparrowhawk, which an aircraft such as the MQ-9 can carry under its wing as it might a traditional payload like a sensor pod or a fuel tank. But when the MQ-9 reaches an area of interest on a mission, it can do something few remotely operated aircraft have ever done – launch the smaller UAS and then recover it in mid-flight.
The smaller, nimbler, swifter Sparrowhawk is difficult for an adversary to spot as it sprints low along its route. It does, via connection to its big brother, what remotely operated aircraft have been doing all along: Sends back vital information about what’s taking place, without the cost and risk of involving a human aircrew.
The Sparrowhawk might surveil an area and turn back to rendezvous with the aircraft that launched it. In a safe area, well away from hostile warplanes or anti-air systems, the larger UAS can snatch the Sparrowhawk out of the sky and continue its mission.
Once Sparrowhawk is secure, the larger aircraft can return to base – or, relying on its ability to stay aloft for many hours, continue its patrol and even launch another Sparrowhawk elsewhere later from its other wing station.
Integrating smaller aircraft with larger unmanned aircraft is possible in part thanks to advances in autonomy and multi-aircraft control pioneered by GA-ASI. As ever, the absence of human pilots on these aircraft means commanders can consider using them in ways they would never employ traditional fighters.
A SkyGuardian could release a Sparrowhawk with the intention of searching for hostile anti-air systems without needing to worry about the safety of the pilot. Indeed, an air commander’s goal might be to send Sparrowhawk to probe a denied environment so that it could report back about the radar or other systems that powered on or detected it – where they were, what type, and how many.
Sparrowhawk could respond with an electronic attack of its own to clear the way for other aircraft coming in behind it, jamming an enemy radar to deny its ability to sense a strike package passing through the area. Or the small aircraft could support missions focused on the suppression of enemy air defenses.
Small UAS will take the concept of unmanned aerial combat to new levels, with new capabilities like our Sparrowhawk and others leading the way in distributed aerial networking and joint, all-domain command and control. But SUAS won’t only help friendly forces deal with threats on the ground.
Another small system in the works by GA-ASI will help clear the way through the skies. LongShot, being developed under a contract from DARPA, will launch from larger UAS or human-crewed aircraft and charge into hostile airspace armed with its own air-to-air missiles, able to fire on enemy targets if it were so commanded.
LongShot gives commanders options, just as all remotely operated systems always have. It could initiate a fighter sweep ahead of a strike wave without putting a human crew in danger, or it could join an attack alongside the vanguard with human-crewed warplanes.
LongShot also could give legacy aircraft such as bombers a potent new anti-air capability. Imagine if a friendly bomber were en route during a combat mission and allied battle networks detected the approach of hostile fighters. LongShot would let the bomber crew go on offense against the threat without the need for its own escorts or the retasking of friendly fighters, preserving its ability to service its targets as planned.
Airpower, naval and ground warfighters doubtlessly will find other new ways to incorporate these new systems into their missions, as troops always have with novel weapons that give them more options and flexibility.
Those pilots, air crews, squadrons and other units are the latest links in a chain that goes back decades. From unpowered contraptions of wood and fabric to sophisticated warplanes that can launch and recover their own smaller squadrons, remotely piloted aircraft have made incredible progress since the days of William Eddy and his camera kites. And with stealthier and advanced new programs in the works, including some in support of the Air Force’s MQ-Next concept, there’s a great deal more to come.
What won’t change is their utility and indispensability from today’s and tomorrow’s military, security, governance and environmental protection operations, with an ever-growing suite of missions beyond those for which they were originally designed.
That, too, is something Eddy himself discovered following his return to New Jersey, when he found that thieves had stolen a batch of ice cream from his back porch.
As one local history records, Eddy reeled out his aerial surveillance kite and captured some images of the area: «One shot showed two men eating ice cream under a tree near Newark Bay. Eddy said he later found his ice cream box under the tree».
The U.S. Navy conducted its first test flight of the MQ-4C Triton in its upgraded hardware and software configuration July 29 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, beginning the next phase of the unmanned aircraft’s development.
The MQ-4C Triton flew in its new configuration, known as Integrated Functional Capability (IFC)-4, which will bring an enhanced multi-mission sensor capability as part of the Navy’s Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (MISR&T) transition plan.
Triton’s Integrated Test Team (ITT) comprised of the U.S. Navy, Australian cooperative partners, and government/industry teams completed a functional check flight and initial aeromechanical test points, demonstrating stability and control of the MQ-4C after a 30-month modification period.
«Today’s flight is a significant milestone for the program and a testament to the resolve of the entire ITT, their hard work, and passion for test execution and program success», said Captain Dan Mackin, Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems program manager. «This flight proves that the program is making significant progress toward Triton’s advanced multi-intelligence upgrade and it brings us closer to achieving the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) milestone».
Multiple Triton assets have been modified into the IFC-4 configuration in support of IOC in 2023. A single test asset is in the current IFC-3 configuration to support sustainment of deployed systems as well as risk reduction for IFC-4.
Currently, two MQ-4C Triton aircraft in the baseline configuration known as IFC-3 are forward deployed to 7th Fleet in support of Early Operational Capability (EOC) and Commander Task Force (CTF)-72 tasking. Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19) will operate Triton to further develop the concept of operations and fleet learning associated with operating a high-altitude, long-endurance system in the maritime domain.
«The MQ-4C Triton has already had a tremendous positive impact on operations in United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and will continue to provide unprecedented maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities which are especially critical to national interests with the increased focus in the Pacific», Mackin said.
Triton is the first high altitude, long endurance aircraft that can conduct persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions to complement the P-8 in the maritime domain. The Navy plans to deploy Triton to five orbits worldwide.
Persistent Maritime ISR
24 + hours
47.6 feet/14.5 meters
130.9 feet/39.9 meters
15.4 feet/4.7 meters
320 knots/368 mph/593 km/h
Five per ground station (Air Vehicle Operator, Tactical Coordinator, 2 Mission Payload Operators, SIGINT coordinator)
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has exercised the clause in its contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) to manufacture and deliver 13 additional Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) that had previously been identified as options. The initial contract order was for three Protector RPAS, establishing 16 as the new total of Protectors to be delivered to the UK MoD.
«Our fleet of 16 Protector aircraft equipped with ultra-modern technology will provide the Royal Air Force (RAF) with a vast global reach allowing us to monitor and protect the battlespace for hours on end. The Protector programme involves industry across the UK with vital parts of the aircraft manufactured on the Isle of Wight, supporting highly-skilled jobs for years to come», said Jeremy Quin, UK Minister for Defense Procurement.
GA-ASI’s MQ-9B SkyGuardian is the baseline system being configured for the RAF as the Protector RG Mk1. It includes X-band satellite communications (SATCOM) and support for UK weapon systems, as well as the aircraft’s onboard sensors such as its electro-optical sensor ball and Lynx Multi-mode Radar.
«This commitment for 13 additional unmanned aircraft confirms the long-term confidence of the UK MoD and the Royal Air Force in the MQ-9B system and the Protector program», said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. «The MQ-9B system will bring unparalleled reconnaissance capability to the RAF and help to ensure the security of the UK and its allies».
In July 2020, the UK MoD and GA-ASI announced a production contract for the first three Protector RPAS. In September 2020, GA-ASI announced the completion of the first Protector-configured MQ-9B, which is now supporting system testing as part of a combined UK MoD, U.S. Air Force and GA-ASI test team. Known as UK1, this first Protector will be delivered to the MoD later this year, but will remain in the U.S. to complete the Royal Air Force’s test and evaluation program before moving to its UK home base in 2022.
«The contract for the additional 13 Protector aircraft, taking the total to 16, is a major milestone for the UK. When Protector enters service in 2024, UK Defence will take an enormous jump forward in capability, giving us the ability to operate globally with this cutting edge, highly adaptable platform», said Air Commodore Richard Barrow, Senior Responsible Owner for the RAF Protector Programme.
The partnership between GA-ASI and the UK MoD also brings significant benefits to UK aerospace and defense industries. One example is GKN Aerospace, which is manufacturing the advanced composite V-tails for the MQ-9B at its centre of excellence in Cowes, the Isle of Wight.
GA-ASI’s development of MQ-9B began in 2014 as a company-funded program to deliver an RPA that meets the stringent NATO STANAG-4671 and UK DEFSTAN 00-970 aircraft system airworthiness requirements. These provide the basis for type certification by NATO member-state military airworthiness authorities. The MQ-9B is designed to accommodate the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS), which helps the aircraft integrate with the normal flow of aviation traffic and keeps operators in contact with air traffic control. The aircraft is built for adverse weather performance with lightning protection, damage tolerance, and a de-icing system. MQ-9B features rapid integration of new payloads with nine hard points. The aircraft can self-deploy using SATCOM-enabled Automatic Takeoff and Landing, which eliminates forward-based launch-and-recovery equipment and personnel. In addition to the Protector and SkyGuardian configurations, MQ-9B is available as the SeaGuardian – with revolutionary anti-submarine and surface search capabilities – for maritime missions.
MQ-9B has garnered significant interest from customers throughout the world. In addition to the UK, SkyGuardian has been selected by the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003 and the Belgian Ministry of Defense signed a contract for SkyGuardian.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, successfully defeated a swarm of drones with its reusable Coyote Block 3 non-kinetic effector during a U.S. Army test. The demonstration moves the variant closer to deployment.
Derived from the expendable Coyote loitering munition, the Block 3 utilizes a non-kinetic warhead to neutralize enemy drones, reducing potential collateral damage. Unlike its expendable counterpart, the non-kinetic variant can be recovered, refurbished and reused without leaving the battlefield.
«This test demonstrates the effectiveness of Coyote to counter complex, unmanned aircraft systems», said Tom Laliberty, vice president of Land Warfare & Air Defense at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. «As a non-kinetic variant, we’re offering an effective weapon against the threat and value to the Army in the form of an affordable, reusable asset».
During the test, the Coyote engaged and defeated a swarm of 10 drones that differed in size, complexity, maneuverability and range. It achieved several significant firsts:
Air-to-air non-kinetic defeats;
Survivability, recovery, refurbishment and reuse during the same test event;
Successful launch from the Coyote Block 2 system;
Extended range engagements, communication and Ku-band Radio Frequency System (KuRFS) radar track.