ST LOUIS, Missouri - Despite its problems with the Max 777, it is business as usual for Boeing on many other fronts.
The prototype for the U.S. Navy's first unmanned aerial refueler made its first test flight from an airfield in Illinois this week.
The MQ-25A Stingray T1 test airframe flew for two-hours after taking off from the MidAmerica regional airport under the control of Boeing test pilots.
Boeing moved the aircraft there in late April from its aviation manufacturing facility outside of St. Louis, Mo.
"Seeing MQ-25 in the sky is a testament to our Boeing and Navy team working the technology, systems and processes that are helping get MQ-25 to the carrier," Boeing MQ-25 Program Director Dave Bujold said Thursday. "This aircraft and its flight test program ensures we're delivering the MQ-25 to the carrier fleet with the safety, reliability and capability the U.S. Navy needs to conduct its vital mission."
"Testing will continue with T1 to further early learning and discovery that advances major systems and software development."
Last year, the company won an $805 million contract to build the first four MQ-25As. The company based the design on the secret prototype built for the canceled Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) competition. The company repurposed the design when the program shifted to tanking in 2015.
"The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders," Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) Program Manager Capt. Chad Reed.
The test asset is a predecessor to the engineering development model (EDM) aircraft and is being used for early learning and discovery to meet the goals of the U.S. Navy's accelerated acquisition program. Boeing will produce four EDM MQ-25 air vehicles for the U.S. Navy under an $805 million contract awarded in August last year.
The MQ-25 will provide the Navy with a much-needed carrier-based unmanned aerial refueling capability. It will allow for better use of the combat strike fighters currently performing the tanking role and will extend the range of the carrier air wing.
"Today's flight is an exciting and significant milestone for our program and the Navy," said the Navy's Unmanned Carrier Aviation (PMA-268) Program Manager Capt. Chad Reed. "The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders."
T1 received its experimental airworthiness certificate from the FAA in September, verifying that the air vehicle meets the agency's requirements for safe flight. Testing will continue with T1 to further early learning and discovery that advances major systems and software development.
According to USNI, the Navy is planning on buying 72 Stingrays with a total cost of about $13 billion as part of a plan to alleviate the refueling burden on its existing fleet of F/A-18F Super Hornets.
The test flight of T1, it says, comes six years after Salty Dog 502, a Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle, made the first autonomous carrier landing aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on July 19, 2013.
In parallel with the testing program of the X-47s, the Navy elected to focus its efforts on a carrier-based tanker rather than a deep-strike penetrator for its first operational carrier UAV.
The service has previously it said wants the aircraft in operation by 2024, said the USNI report.