Boeing offers sneak peek of MQ-25 tanker drone

Boeing on Tuesday unveiled its entrant into the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 tanker drone competition, a prototype wing-body-tail aircraft ready to begin tests this month.

So far, Boeing has released one photo of the aircraft facing head-on to the camera, proving that the company has fabricated a prototype and that — as expected — it has moved away from the flying wing design it considered putting forward to the precursor of the MQ-25 program, when the Navy prioritized strike and ISR capabilities for its first carrier-based drone.

“It’s an aircraft with the mission in mind, and we felt confident that the wing-body-tail design was the best for the refueling mission,” said Boeing spokeswoman Didi VanNierop, who added that the company incorporated lessons from its Phantom Ray unmanned demonstrator and other Boeing unmanned aerial systems.
duct engine runs by the end of the year at its St. Louis, Missouri, facility before moving on to deck handling demos early next year, the company said in a news release.

During the deck handling demonstrations, the company will take the aircraft to the ramp, which will be marked to the measurements of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck, VanNierop said. There, operators will taxi the aircraft via remote control and move it within the confines of the deck. They will also validate that the aircraft will engage the launch bar of a catapult.

However, the aircraft will not fly during those demonstrations, and Boeing has not set a date for first flight, she noted.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don Gaddis, who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works, 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.”