MQ-25 test team accelerating critical AR capabilities for fleet

An MQ-25 Stingray, the Navy’s new aerial refueler, prepares for landing after a successful first test flight at MidAmerica Airport, St. Claire County, Ill. on Sept. 19, 2019.

The Navy awarded the contract to build its first operational carrier-based Unmanned Aerial System — the MQ-25A Stingray — in August 2018.

Designed to add an efficient, semi-autonomous refueling capability to our carrier air wing, the aircraft extends the operational range and flexibility of the carrier strike group.

The Chief of Naval Operations and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition challenged the MQ-25 program to reach Initial Operational Capability as soon as 2024 to provide a critical capability to the fleet and keep pace with an evolving maritime security environment. In support of that challenge, the MQ-25 Integrated Test Team (ITT) is working in partnership with industry partners to meet the program’s accelerated development and test timeline.

Just over one year from contract award, the Boeing-owned MQ-25 prototype, called T1, took its first flight from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Illinois. The flight was a successful demonstration of the air vehicle’s ability to operate safely and validated the aircraft’s basic flight functions and operations with the ground control station. Since then, the ITT conducted approximately 30 flight hours, informing design decisions and supporting early learning.

Testing with T1 before the Engineering Development Model (EDM) aircraft are even built provides valuable insight much earlier than traditional for acquisition programs, yielding lessons in technical areas that advance development of major systems and software.

To support the program’s accelerated schedule, the Navy and Boeing adopted a one-team model, with government personnel embedded at the contractor’s facility and participating in testing Boeing’s T1 aircraft. During the initial T1 test phase, members of the ITT collaborated with Boeing to write test plans, monitor data during flights and analyze that information upon flight completion. During flights, a Navy air vehicle operator sat in the second seat at the ground control station.

The ITT is also working to build and test the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System (UMCS), the system of hardware, software and infrastructure required to command and control the MQ-25 air vehicle. The UMCS will be located in the Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center, the carrier-based control room. The team built a UMCS for testing at the Atlantic Test Ranges at NAS Patuxent River and has already begun conducting software and hardware in-the-loop integration testing. The test team also facilitated the first UMCS cyber testing to iterate the system’s architecture, helping to ensure its future resiliency.

The ITT’s logisticians are already hard at work writing the first maintainability and supportability test plans.

T1 is currently undergoing a modification to add the Aerial Refueling Store (ARS) and the logistics group used that opportunity to collect data for operational-level maintenance tasks, including for the engine and wing. The data will support design changes for the EDM aircraft and improve the aircraft’s support systems.

Simultaneously, the team executed the first round of maintenance test points for the UMCS to evaluate the initial technical manuals, support equipment, sparing, as well as the initial toolbox for W/C 290 and the maintainer interface. The results will provide improvements to support systems in order to maintain and support the UMCS both ashore and aboard ship. The logistics team’s efforts will prove vital in evaluating the measures of suitability for reliability, maintainability, supportability and availability.

It’s been a busy two years for MQ-25’s ITT.

In the near term, we expect to begin testing T1 with the ARS pod attached. Flight test will focus on conducting wake surveys for the F/A-18E/F. The mission systems team will continue integrating hardware and software updates for the UMCS and prepare for the arrival of the first MQ-25A at NAS Patuxent River by conducting communication surveys of the airfield and local airspace.

Additionally, the test team plans to evaluate the ground-based sense-and-avoid system as a supplemental safety system. Further on the horizon, we’re looking forward to completion of the ITT’s new MQ-25 hangar at NAS Patuxent River, production of the Navy’s first MQ-25A and eventually taking the Stingray to the carrier to conduct sea trials.