The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in a demonstration with NASA has performed the first-ever hands-off probe and drogue air refueling mission, employing a NASA F/A-18 operating as an unmanned test bed. According to a DARPA release, the Autonomous Airborne Refueling Demonstration used GPS navigation and an optical tracker to precisely position the refueling probe into the basket lowered from an aerial refueling aircraft. Air Force Lt. Col. Jim McCormick, DARPA program manager, said using the probe and drogue method provided “the most challenging [situation] for autonomous systems.” The capability “applies equally to the boom and receptacle method used by most Air Force aircraft,” he added. The flight was the seventh in a planned series of eight, but was the first one to demonstrate a hands-off approach. (How, or if, this gels with last year’s effort by the Air Force Test Pilot School is unclear.)
March 4, 2024
The Air Force has published images of an operational hypersonic Air-Launched Rapid-Response Weapon (ARRW) in Guam; a disclosure possibly meant to send a message to China but which raises questions about the future of the ARRW, which the Air Force insists it is not planning to procure in quantity.