Using the portable simulator E-2D from Northrup Grumman, Boeing and a team of experts demonstrated the manned-unmanned use of a drone to refill a fighter jet while in the sky. The effort involved “virtual carrier air wing teaming scenarios,” according to Boeing, including the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the US Navy’s MQ-255 Stingray unmanned aerial refueler.
This simulated demonstration was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, according to Boeing, which led the team. Multiple simulated scenarios were demonstrated, each involving the MQ-25 Stingray refueling an airborne F/A-18 Super Hornet jet. The demonstration of manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) involving the two aircraft was made possible using “existing operational flight program software,” Boeing explained, offering two key findings:
…that initial MUM-T capability between MQ-25, E-2D and F/A-18 is achievable with minimal change to the crew vehicle interface and could be integrated into earlier MQ-25 operational deployments
The effort took place under the Navy’s wider Unmanned Campaign Plan, which seeks to integrate unmanned drones into its overall operations as support for manned systems, such as jets that may be running low on fuel. Boeing plans additional MUM-T demonstrations in the future, including ones that’ll include new mission areas.
Boeing developed the MQ-25 unmanned drone for the US Navy as a way to extend combat range of three different fighter jet models: the Lockheed Martin F-35C, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the Boeing EA-18G Growler. The unmanned drone builds upon Boeing’s multi-decade history of work with the US Navy.