Navy Engineers Test Aging Equipment to Find a Cost-Saving Solution for MQ-25

An Aerial Refueling Store pod undergoes fatigue testing in the Structures lab at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Maryland. The test helped Navy engineers determine whether the service can use the aging pods aboard its future aerial tanker, the MQ-25 Stingray, beyond the pods’ estimated end-of-life, potentially saving the Navy millions. (Image: NAVAIR)

Engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) are testing the Navy’s current fleet of Aerial Refueling Store pods to support the service’s new air-to-air refueling tanker, the MQ-25 Stingray, potentially saving millions.

Today, the current fleet of Aerial Refueling Store pods fly aboard naval aircraft like F/A-18 and are expected to reach their estimated end-of-life in 2025. Conversely, the MQ-25 will need dozens of pods delivered between now and 2035 as the Stingray heads to the fleet.

“There are about 200 pods in inventory and each carry 2,000 lbs. of fuel,” said NAWCAD engineer, Tom Cavallaro. “With this proven life-extension testing, the pods should be able to expand Stingray’s reach and operate in the fleet through 2040.”

New fuel pods cost the Navy about $2.2 million each.

“If testing is successful, Flight Readiness Center (FRC) Southeast can reuse the current pod shells and update their internal workings at less than half the cost,” said NAWCAD structural engineer, Corey Golladay.

To test the integrity of the pods’ frame, NAWCAD engineers and technicians created a custom test rig featuring hydraulic arms that twist and flex the pod replicating gravity and acceleration forces gathered from flight data.

“The test took two-and-a-half months to run 6,292 unique cases of flight data – in total, 440,720 simulated loads,” said Golladay. “That’s equivalent to two lifetimes of force – with no visual damage to the shell exterior.”

NAWCAD’s Structures lab, with experts in aircraft structural and fatigue testing and strain gage installations, collaborated with the Navy’s Precision Strike Weapons Program Office (PMA-201) for the project. The team will next send the tested pod to FRC Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida, to check for wear and determine whether refurbishment will be the solution.

Watch a video of Navy engineers testing an aging refueling pod here: