Call It the Question Hawk

Call It the Question Hawk: Northrop Grumman announced Thursday that it has received a $33 million contract from DARPA to demonstrate “completely autonomous” aerial refueling for the first time ever, under a program designated KQ-X. For this demonstration, the company will use two of the early-model RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft that NASA now operates. One will be modified to pass the fuel via a hose-and-drogue refueling system; the other will be retrofitted to receive the fuel. Company spokeswoman Sherri Hargrove told the Daily Report that the period of performance, including the in-flight demo, is expected to be about 24 months. The program represents several significant “firsts” beyond the autonomous coupling, according to Northrop Grumman. For one, the refueling will take place at higher altitudes than demonstrated with manned aircraft. Plus, it will mark the first time that high-flying, long-endurance unmanned aircraft have flown in formation.