When Boeing tweeted an eight-second clip of a mysterious aircraft last week with the idea that it might be “changing future air power,” speculation ran wild that this was either some sort of space airplane or perhaps a new VTOL aircraft with a “hairdryer-type engine.” Close, but no cigar.
Instead, as Boeing revealed this week, the aircraft is the company’s submission for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 competition that will provide unmanned refueling capabilities and subsequent extension of combat range for Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters.
“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don “B.D.” Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization. “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’s MQ-25 entry is currently undergoing engine runs, and the company expects to begin deck handling demonstrations early in 2018.
In addition to Boeing, the Navy awarded MQ-25 development deals to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics; however, Northrop CEO Wes Bush announced in October that the company was pulling out of the competition, saying that his “objective is not just to win.”
“Winning is great,” he added, “it feels good on the day of an announcement, but if you can’t really execute on it and deliver on it to your customer and your shareholders, then you’ve done the wrong thing.”
Proposals are due on January 3, and a contract will be awarded in the second quarter of 2018. Delivery is expected for 2021.