On Dec 19, 2017, the US aviation giant Boeing released the first photo of the MQ-25 “Stingray” prototype. It is an unmanned aircraft designed to refuel Navy jets flying from aircraft carriers. The prototype is developed at the secretive “Phantom Works” facility. This unveiling opens competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics to build a fleet of drone oil tankers capable of taking off and landing from an aircraft carrier.
The US Navy has the requirement of delivering 15,000 pounds of fuel to fighters within 500 miles of the carrier. It is expected that 76 of these aircraft would be built by the contract winner and are expected to join their robot brethren and enter operation in the mid-2020s.
The MQ-25 drone hasn’t taken off yet, although Boeing tells it is completely functional. Engine tests on the ground and deck handling practices are next ups.
The Stingray program will support carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, and the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
The MQ-25 program is immensely needed to replace the current aerial refueling missions fulfilled by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The resulting stress of near-continuous operation has severely impacted the effectiveness of the Super Hornet aircraft, with only 30 percent of them combat ready.
Final proposals to the Navy from all three companies are due by January 3.