Unmanned Aerial Refueling Aircraft
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is using an integrated fuel tank structure to maximize fuel offload for the proposed MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling aircraft for the U.S. Navy. GA-ASI applied its knowledge of advanced composite aircraft structures to develop integrated fuel tanks in a large-scale wing box test article and a full-scale wing skin pre-production validation article.
The wing box tested to failure via wing bending at GA-ASI's Adelanto, Calif. structural test facility in November 2017. In April, the company verified the production readiness of the co-cured wing and tail components using both non-destructive and destructive inspections.
A full-scale inner-wing skin demonstration article built in March at GA-ASI's Spanish Fork, Utah facility verified the MQ-25 tooling concepts, lamination approach, and processes. The team validated the outer mold line tooling approach for the build process which enables accelerated engineering and tooling fabrication for the MQ-25 program.
In April GA-ASI successfully demonstrated aircraft carrier deck handling to include taxi capability and transition to the launch and recovery phases using a Predator® C Avenger® jet aircraft as a surrogate. As part of the proposed MQ-25 solution, GA-ASI has demonstrated that the new carrier-based unmanned tanker can integrate with the complexities of existing flight deck operations. Specifically, MQ-25 deck operations will use specially designed director wands that are the same size, shape, and weight as those used today. Directors fully control aircraft taxi operations on deck, including lowering/raising the launch bar, spreading/folding the wings, and raising the arresting hook. GA-ASI employs unique gesture recognition algorithms in the wands that recognize standard Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures (NATOPS) flight deck director hand gestures and then translates and sends those commands to the MQ-25 air vehicle. MQ-25 receives the commands and converts them into the appropriate aircraft actions.
In June, GA-ASI successfully flew its MQ-25A surrogate aircraft – a Predator C Avenger – outfitted with a representative set of mission payloads, including Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR), Electronic Support Measures (ESM), Automatic Identification System (AIS), and Mission Processing. During the flight, the MQ-25A surrogate's payloads were remotely commanded by GA-ASI's extensible payload command and control (C2) system.
GA-ASI also successfully completed the MQ-25's fourth wind tunnel test. During this most recent low-speed wind tunnel test, the performance of the high-lift system and spoiler-based direct lift control (DLC) were verified in the presence of a heavily instrumented flow-through duct. The results were consistent with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) predictions and further verified the aircraft's ability to execute launch, recovery, waveoff, and bolter maneuvers on an aircraft carrier.
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