Automated Aerial Refueling Advances

The Air Force Research Lab has awarded a Boeing-led industry team a four-year, $49 million contract to continue work on the technology that will enable unmanned aerial vehicles to rendezvous autonomously with tanker aircraft and refuel, the company announced Feb. 5. These activities are Phase II of AFRL’s automated aerial refueling program. During Phase I, a Boeing-led team demonstrated that a single UAV could safely maneuver behind a tanker aircraft in refueling positions and conduct a breakaway maneuver. Under Phase II, the consortium, formally named the AAR integrator team, will coordinate flight tests that will include autonomous multi-ship operations and the actual delivery of fuel to a manned surrogate UAV. Boeing’s team includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, plus General Electric Aviation, Rockwell Collins, and Sierra Nevada Corp. Phase II will be divided into two parts to mature components to allow boom and receptacle and potentially probe and drogue refuelings.