MQ-25 prototype moves to flight test site
The Boeing-built prototype for the US Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray unmanned aircraft has arrived at a commercial airport in St Louis to begin flight tests later this year, according to company officials.
The prototype aerial refueller, known as T1, left Boeing’s St Louis factory late 28 April and traveled about 70 miles aboard a flatbed truck before arriving at the MidAmerica St Louis Airport in Illinois, which is next to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
‘This is a giant step getting this airplane to its test location,’ said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 programme manager and a former USAF acquisition official.
While St Louis Lambert International Airport is closer to the Boeing plant, MidAmerica is less busy, which should make flight testing more efficient, Bujold told reporters on 29 April in Arlington, Virginia.
Boeing plans to amass ‘a couple hundred hours’ of flying with the T1, Bujold said. The test effort will begin with assessing the airplane’s flight performance. It will later add the Aerial Refuelling Store refuelling pod and the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System. The programme has not yet determined whether the prototype will refuel other aircraft.
T1’s flight tests are slated to wrap up in FY 2021. T1 will also undergo deck handling tests, but not flying, aboard an aircraft carrier on the east coast.
Boeing, which built T1 during the MQ-25 competition, received an $805 million contract in August to finish developing the Stingray and build four engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) aircraft. The company will probably freeze the EMD design by early 2020, Bujold said. First flight for EMD is slated for FY 2021.
With a length of about 15.5m and a wingspan of about 23m, the MQ-25 will be the navy’s first carrier-based operational unmanned aircraft and is intended to free up F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters from refueling missions. The navy wants to begin fielding the Stingray by 2024.
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