Boeing Unveils MQ-25 Navy’s Drone Tanker.
Boeing Defense posted a Tweet last week showing what appears to be a new aircraft design under
a big black sheet. Phantom Works is the company’s secretive leading-edge design, now Boeing
has given us the very first look at its actual working prototype for the US Navy’s MQ-25
Stingray unmanned tanker initiative. The Chicago-headquartered firm is now the second entrant in that competition,
the other being General Atomics, to offer a look at their full concept and the first
to show off an prototype. On Dec. 2017, Boeing made the full announcement
about the new unmanned aircraft from Phantom Works, the company’s secretive design division
that is roughly analogous Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works. The firm did not say
if the drone had internal nomenclature or nickname, as had been the case with its Phantom
Ray entry into the Navy’s abortive Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and
Strike program. Lockheed Martin is now the only remaining participant in the MQ-25 program,
also known as the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System to have not revealed art or images
of their entry. “Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft
to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don Gaddis, the head of the refueling system program at
Boeing’s Phantom Works, said in a press release. “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 says the drone is functional, though
it hasn’t flown. It will finish engine test runs on the ground ahead of deck handling
demonstrations in early 2018. The Navy wants all of the competitors to submit their formal
MQ-25 proposals by Jan. 3, 2018. There is no doubt about it, Boeing’s design
looks impressive and follows somewhat with the very limited amount of concept art the
company released in the past for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and
Strike program unmanned naval combat air vehicle program that was later replaced by the far
less ambitious Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System tanker initiative. The landing gear
look carrier ready, and although there isn’t a requirement for stealth, the design does
appear to have some low-observable features although it isn’t optimized specifically in
that manner. Also note that the prototype has the same artwork on it as the Unmanned
Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program art below.
The inlet design still remains a mystery as the photo Boeing has released seems to show
a tiny inlet area built into the aircraft’s bulbous forward fuselage. This is likely an
optical illusion, or a smaller inlet for other purposes, and a larger inlet exists that can
be seen from more elevated viewing angles. Upon close examination, there does seem to
be a relatively large ventral bay shown directly behind the aircraft’s nose gear doors. It
isn’t clear if this is a large access panel that has been left open or if this is a payload
bay of some kind. But it must be noted that we still don’t know
exactly what is flying in the classified realm, although we can easily speculate with confidence,
and considering Lockheed still hasn’t come forward with their offering, Boeing and General
Atomics could still be very surprised by a highly mature competitor thanks to the Phantom
Works and their experience with high-end unmanned aircraft.
In all, Boeing’s MQ-25 entrant’s configuration is similar on a basic level to General Atomics’
Sea Avenger concept, which itself was remodeled from the Predator-C Avenger unmanned aircraft.
Both designs include wide v-tails, a dorsal inlet, a chined fuselage, and so on.
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