The X-47B successfully conducted the first ever Autonomous Aerial Refueling of an unmanned aircraft April 22.
Here are five things to know about the milestone.
- The refueling completed the final test objective under the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System demonstration program.
- While flying off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, the X-47B connected to an Omega K-707 tanker aircraft and received over 4,000 pounds of fuel using the Navy’s probe-and-drogue method.
- During the test, the X-47B exchanged refueling messages with a government-designed Refueling Interface System aboard the tanker. The aircraft autonomously maneuvered its fixed refueling probe into the tanker’s drogue, also known as the basket, the same way a Navy pilot would refuel a manned aircraft.
- This testing helps solidify the concept that future unmanned aircraft can perform standard missions like aerial refueling and operate seamlessly with manned aircraft as part of the Carrier Air Wing.
- Over the last few years, the Navy accomplished several significant firsts with the X-47B that showcased the Navy’s commitment to unmanned carrier aviation. With the completion of this program, the service continues to develop its future unmanned carrier-based platform, known as UCLASS.
“What we accomplished [April 22] demonstrates a significant, groundbreaking step forward for the Navy. The ability to autonomously transfer and receive fuel in flight will increase the range and flexibility of future unmanned aircraft platforms, ultimately extending carrier power projection.”
Capt. Beau Duarte
Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager