Boeing flipped the aviation world on its head with the announcement of an autonomous refueling plane. The aviation company unveiled the unmanned drone that is in competition with Lockheed Martin and General Atomics to win a lucrative contract with the United States Navy worth an estimated $2 billion. The winner of the contract will be manufacturing the MQ-25 “Stingray.”
The competition began in October 2016 after the US Navy felt they had a need for an alternative method to refueling combat planes mid-air. The drone must be able to refuel Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing’s EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin’s F-35C fighters, according to Geek Wire.
The premise is that the unmanned drone would be loaded on to ships and then catapulted into the air in the same way ship-based fighter jets are. The drone was designed to keep combat planes in the air for an extended period of time without having to come back to a base or ship to refuel.
The contract detailed that the drone must be able to deliver 15,000 pounds of fuel as far as 500 nautical miles from the carrier it was launched from. The drones will keep manned refueling planes out of harm’s way in combat zones.
The Daily Mail reported that the additional fuel should allow the combat planes to fly an additional 300 to 400 miles over what they are currently capable of. “That will extend the reach of the air wing, and when we combine that with additional weapons we are buying, we will get an impressive reach,” Air Boss Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said.
“Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year,” a spokesperson for Boeing said after the drone’s unveiling.
The winner of the contract is expected to be announced in September of next year. Northrop Grumman was invited to compete on the contract with the other three aviation powerhouses but dropped out late last year.