Unmanned Airborne Refueling Simulation Tested; To Go On Stream Next Year (Video)

March 10, 2011, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

We hope you all know that Northrop Grumman Corporation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA Dryden Flight Research Center had taken the initiative to demonstrate the first aerial refueling between two unmanned aircraft, that too at high altitudes of 45,000 feet. They have been successful doing that.

The flight test was conducted in the challenging high altitude environment required for refueling of high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The aircraft used in the test flight conducted on January 21 were Northrop Grumman’s Proteus test aircraft and NASA’s Global Hawk.

The craft flew as close as 40 feet apart at an altitude of 45,000 feet. Evaluations were made on the wake turbulence between the two crafts, their engine performance and flight control responsiveness as well.

Simulated breakaway maneuvers were also conducted alongside.  The people behind this record-setting initiative are now preparing for autonomous aerial refueling of two Global Hawks in the coming year.

The upcoming KQ-X program, which costs $33 million, will demonstrate autonomous fuel transfer between two Global Hawks. The significant aspect of this is that it will include flights of up to one week endurance.

In fact, this KQ-X is follow-on to a 2006 DARPA Autonomous Aerial Refueling Demonstration (AARD). It was a joint effort with NASA Dryden. The then program used an F-18 fighter jet as a surrogate unmanned aircraft to autonomously refuel through a probe and drogue from a 707 tanker.

Well, in the program to be held in 2012, Northrop Grumman supports the operation of the two Global Hawks used in the KQ-X program as we had said above, under the terms of a Space Act Agreement with its NASA Dryden partner.

Here’s a video of the test:

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