No pilot required: Boeing reveals autonomous jet that refuels fighter planes in mid-air

Boeing’s unmanned refueling jet. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing pulled back the curtain on an autonomous refueling plane designed to refuel U.S. Navy fighter jets in mid-air to extend their range.

In October, the Navy issued a request for proposals seeking unmanned refueling capabilities for a variety of combat planes, such as the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. Responses to this request, known as the MQ-25 competition, are due Jan. 3.

Boeing’s entry is in the midst of completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for “deck handling demonstrations” early next year.

The winning entry will launch and land on aircraft carriers, so it will have to integrate with catapult and launch and recovery systems.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization, said in a statement. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”