Posted by on December 19, 2017 11:20 pm
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Categories: Aerial refueling Aerospace engineering Aircraft Aviation Boeing Boeing Defense, Space & Security Carrier-based aircraft DARPA Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Economy Edwards Air Force Base MQ-25 Stingray navy Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Stealth aircraft SWIFT Twitter United States Navy Unmanned combat aerial vehicle XS-1

Boeing’s IR team had been working around the clock for today’s unveiling of the ‘Batmobile’ style unmanned refueling tanker drone. For days, the internet had been in suspense, trying to guess what Boeing’s big surprise would  be. To boost the suspense, the company’s twitter account released a statement last week saying the new aircraft is set to “change the future of air power.”

And judging by the hype generated by Boeing, the marketing campaign paid off. Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft is currently in engine trials before heading to the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in 2018.  The MQ-25 was specifically made for the Navy to extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters.

Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s MQ-25 said, “Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years. Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

Boeing unveils the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned tanker.

In the first half of 2017, Boeing was selected by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to complete the design work for the agency’s new Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). And 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.

Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager said, “the XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand.”

Boeing’s MQ-25 is slated to conduct 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.”

“We’re very pleased with Boeing’s progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3—fabrication and flight.”

Boeing has stoked conversation about its “mystery aircraft” for about a week. On Dec. 14, the company posted a short video of a stationary aircraft draped in a drop cloth on its Twitter account.

“Robust? Check. Ready? Check. Changing future air power? Check it out!” read the caption, which then implored viewers to come back on Dec. 19 to see the plane’s reveal.

As a result, the internet had speculated these additional prototypes from Boeing could have been released.

Some aviation enthusiasts correctly guessed that Boeing would debut its MQ-25 offering, but others speculated that the new Phantom Works aircraft could be a new version of the Bird of Prey subsonic stealth aircraft, its Phantom Ray unmanned combat drone or even a new collaboration with Aurora Flight Sciences, which the company acquired this year. The XV-24A LightningStrike VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) plane was acquired last year by Boeing from Aurora Flight Sciences. Applications for the plane include commercial and military purposes.

Aurora Flight Sciences successfully tested the Subscale X-Plane Aircraft for vertical take-off and landing.

The Phantom Swift, a Boeing prototype initially built in less than 30-days, has been accepted into the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) X-plane program. The aircraft has two large fans in the fuselage and two wingtip fans for stabilization.

“Proving these capabilities in a single aircraft has been the holy grail for tactical military aviation,” said Dan Newman, Boeing Phantom Works Advanced Vertical Lift capture team lead. “We’re confident that Phantom Swift could be the solution.”

And while much the internet guessed wrong about today’s MQ-25 unmanned refueling drone release by Boeing, it signals that the military-industrial complex shows no signs of slowing, as President Trump will soon be able to attack even more targets, at an even further dustance by extending the combat range of some of the Navy’s aircraft. There is one final question: how dangerous is it to fly an unmanned gas tank over hostile territory?

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