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Watch the Navy’s Stingray Drone Refuel a Fɪɢʜᴛᴇʀ in Midair for the First Time

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The new Boeing MQ-25A Stingray drone just passed a key test: refueling a manned aircraft, an F/A-18F Super Hornet, in midair.

The MQ-25A is designed to act primarily as an aerial refueling tanker, allowing other aircraft based on U.S. Navy carriers to fly longer and farther—and freeing up much-needed Super Hornet ғɪɢʜᴛᴇʀs from the same task.


On June 4, both aircraft flew from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois. The MQ-25A, carrying an aerial refueling store (ARS) pod on an external pylon, unspooled an aerial refueling drogue and trailed it behind the unmanned aircraft. The Super Hornet moved up to a position behind the drone and then plugged its refueling probe into the drogue, beginning the refueling process.


There are two methods of aerial refueling. The “flying ʙooм” method involves a large tanker—like the KC-135 Stratotanker, KC-10 Extender, or KC-46 Pegasus—lowering a long, fixed-length probe from the rear of the aircraft. The receiving aircraft typically has a receptacle port in its nose or wing. Once it’s in position behind the tanker, the receiving aircraft moves in and plugs into the ʙooм. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel, who use aircraft like the F-15 and F-16, primarily follow this method.


But U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft can’t fly planes equipped with long fixed ʙooмs from aircraft carriers, so they use the “hose and drogue” system instead. The MQ-25A uses hose and drogue, as does the buddy refueling system employed by the Super Hornet. The method is also popular with many air forces that fly European aircraft.