X-47B First to Complete Autonomous Aerial
From Naval Air Systems Command.
Patuxtent River, Maryland — (NNS)
— April 22, 2015 — The X-47B successfully conducted the first ever Autonomous Aerial Refueling
(AAR) of an unmanned aircraft April 22, completing the final test objective
under the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System demonstration program.
While flying off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, the X-47B connected to
an Omega K-707 tanker aircraft and received over 4,000 pounds of fuel using the
Navy's probe-and-drogue method.
X-47B receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker
"What we accomplished today demonstrates a significant, groundbreaking step
forward for the Navy," said Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy's Unmanned Carrier
Aviation program manager. "The ability to autonomously transfer and receive fuel
in flight will increase the range and flexibility of future unmanned aircraft
platforms, ultimately extending carrier power projection."
During the test, the X-47B exchanged refueling messages with a
government-designed Refueling Interface System (RIS) aboard the tanker. The
aircraft autonomously maneuvered its fixed refueling probe into the tanker's
drogue, also known as the basket, the same way a Navy pilot would refuel a
"In manned platforms, aerial refueling is a challenging maneuver because of
the precision required by the pilot to engage the basket," Duarte said. "Adding
an autonomous functionality creates another layer of complexity."
This testing helps solidify the concept that future unmanned aircraft can
perform standard missions like aerial refueling and operate seamlessly with
manned aircraft as part of the Carrier Air Wing, he said.
This test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft is refueled
"This segment of the X-47B demonstration program allowed us to further mature
AAR technologies and evaluate the government tanker RIS," said Barbara Weathers,
X-47B deputy program manager. "We used similar command-control and navigation
processes previously demonstrated during the X-47B landings aboard the aircraft
Over the last few years, the Navy accomplished several significant firsts
with the X-47B that showcased the Navy's commitment to unmanned carrier
aviation. With the completion of this program, the service continues to develop
its future unmanned carrier-based platform, known as UCLASS.