The U.S. Navy has completed the first demonstration flights of the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aboard the aircraft carrier George HW Bush. More precisely, its prototype T-1 flew. The tests were carried out in conjunction with Boeing, the general contractor for the program, and in the presence of Lockheed Martin representatives to evaluate the performance of their control system.
“We have shown that the MQ-25 can be operated from the deck of an aircraft carrier and refueled in the air. We met both Navy requirements, and we did it years earlier than is usually the case with military equipment acquisition programs”, - said Boeing MQ-25 Program Director Dave Bujold.
Bujold mentioned the premature surrender for a reason. It was planned to develop and test the aircraft by 2025. But the Air Force's lack of confidence in its needs, constant changes in requirements and, as a result, more than 15 years of work, made some officials in Washington very negative about the project as a whole. The early test was supposed to relieve the growing tension and save funding.
The Stingray drone was born out of the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System program. True, initially they did not create a tanker, although a thing is certainly useful at sea, but a scout and a striker.
The development of the combat aircraft began in 2006. The fleet wanted a low-visibility strike UAV capable of taking off from an aircraft carrier and landing on it, as well as breaking through enemy air defense systems. By 2012, the requirements for the strike functionality of the new complex receded into the background. Now, to a greater extent, reconnaissance capabilities are needed, and in low-intensity conflicts.
In 2016, desires changed again. Now a tanker with some reconnaissance ability was required. Plans to create an attack UAV were postponed until later. That same year, the Navy signed four development contracts with Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Defeated Boeing.
The MQ-25 Stingray is capable of delivering 6.8 tons of fuel at a range of up to 930 km and carrying out 4-6 air refueling. He demonstrated this in a series of tests conducted over the past two years, starting from ground airfields. The F / A-18 Super Hornet and F-35C Lightning II carrier-based fighters, as well as the E-2D Hawkeye early warning aircraft, received fuel from the flying tanker.
The plane proved to be obedient to the teams of operators trained on a Boeing simulator in St. Louis. The designers of Lockheed Martin, developing the control system, tried to make it as simple as possible. In fact, it is no different from simulator game consoles and is absolutely understandable to the new generation of sailors who spent their entire childhood with such consoles in their hands.
According to Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker, the use of such UAVs will increase the combat radius of the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet of the aircraft carrier from 830 km to 1300 km.
The new UAV with a length of 15.5 meters is equipped with one Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine with a thrust of 4500 kg / s. The creators of the drone retreated from the mono-wing, beloved by American aircraft designers. However, the UAV did not become more visible to radars, even with a significant 23 meters of wingspan.
"There is no better way to determine the performance of a carrier aircraft and its integration into an aircraft wing than to test it at sea", - said Captain Chad Reed, the Navy's MQ-25 program manager, after returning the drone to the deck of the aircraft carrier.