Following years of development and testing, Boeing has advanced its manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) technology using a digital F/A-18 Super Hornet and MQ-25 refuelling platform, demonstrating the software’s readiness to be incorporated into real-world missions.

Boeing-led tests were conducted in a simulator laboratory to virtually demonstrate an F/A-18 pilot commanding an uncrewed MQ-25 to release a refuelling drogue and refuel the jet. In addition to the upgraded software, test engineers also took advantage of existing communications links (including hardware and datalinks) on both platforms.
“MQ-25 is designed to typically receive commands from air vehicle pilots on an aircraft carrier,” explained Alex Ewing, F/A-18 new product development lead. “This software will add a second option, enabling pilots to initiate commands right from their cockpit”.

In 2019, the uncrewed MQ-25 became the first autonomous aircraft in history to refuel another aircraft. It is also designed to provide a “robust refuelling capability” for the Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters, notes Boeing, which adds that its proprietary software will “significantly reduce the time it takes for an F/A-18 to communicate with an MQ-25, giving pilots greater flexibility in refuelling from longer distances”.

“Aerial refuelling is like a ballet as two airplanes come together,” concluded Juan Cajigas, director of the Advanced MQ-25 programme. “To be able to direct the activities via a single pilot, safely and efficiently, is a major step forward in aerial refuelling technology”.
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