Ray of flight

The MQ-25 Stingray puts Boeing at the forefront of autonomous flight

As the gray-and-orange aircraft with noticeably long wings took to the air for the first time, a wave of cheers rose from the crowd gathered near the runway at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.

Amid the people cheering in the afternoon heat was Tara Ketterman, lead program schedule integrator for the MQ-25   Stingray, the aircraft that rose into the hazy sky right before her eyes.

It was incredible excitement, incredible pride in what our team at Boeing has produced, it was joy. It was the most incredible thing I’ve participated in during my 15 years at Boeing.

—Tara Ketterman, lead program schedule integrator for the MQ-25 Stingray

Tara Ketterman,  lead program schedule integrator for the MQ-25 Stingray

The first test flight of T1, the Boeing-owned MQ-25 test asset, on Sept. 19, 2019, came just more than a year after the U.S. Navy awarded Boeing with an $805 million engineering and manufacturing development contract to provide four unmanned refueling aircraft. It was a notable accomplishment for a program that’s attempting to perfect an unprecedented mission: to autonomously refuel naval aircraft from aircraft carriers.

Tyler Frost, a supplier program manager for the MQ-25

This is a very dynamic and challenging environment. On a development program like this, every day you come in and a new challenge hits you.

—Tyler Frost, a supplier program manager for the MQ-25

T1’s two-hour test flight ended with a successful landing under the watchful eyes of Boeing Test & Evaluation pilots operating from a ground control station at the airport. The aircraft completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff and flew a predetermined route to validate basic flight functions and operations with the ground control station.

The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us rapidly progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders.

—Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager

Capt. Chad Reed, the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager

The MQ-25 aims to provide the Navy with a carrier-based unmanned aerial refueling capability, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters currently performing the tanker role, including the F/A-18, and extending the range of the carrier air wing.

Chris Blanc, test conductor with Boeing Test & Evaluation, said the MQ-25 is hugely different from most of Boeing’s other aircraft primarily because of one factor: there’s no pilot in the cockpit. Instead of relying on a human pilot’s quick decisions when the unexpected happens, test specialists like himself and engineers have to script out potential scenarios and reactions ahead of time.

Chris Blanc, test conductor with Boeing Test & Evaluation

“You have to imagine everything that could possibly happen ahead of time and plan for it,” Blanc (front) said, adding that an air vehicle operator maintains the capability to change the flight path, altitude and speed if necessary. “It’s like a symphony, where everyone — the air vehicle operators, the engineers, the operations team, air traffic control — prepares and practices, and then we work together to make it perform. Being a part of that team is what I enjoy most.”

The ongoing flight-test program is yielding valuable information that will be used in building the Navy’s engineering and manufacturing development aircraft.

Jen Kirchner, Environmental Control Systems thermal/ice/fire lead engineer

First flight wasn’t the end of the hard work. It’s just starting.

—Jen Kirchner, Environmental Control Systems thermal/ice/fire lead engineer

Story by

Eric Fetters-Walp

Photos & Videos by

Boeing

Related Content

Boeing's MQ-25 is ready

Boeing is bringing the future of unmanned aircraft carrier aviation to the U.S. Navy with its MQ-25.
MQ-25 Completes First Test Flight

Boeing Feature Story

MQ-25 Completes First Test Flight.
日本毛片18禁免费_日本毛片高清免费视频_日本黄大片免费