General Atomics tests MQ-25A powerplant configuration

General Atomics and Pratt & Whitney team is continuing risk reduction testing in anticipation of the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refueling aircraft contract in the coming months.

On April 5th the GA-ASI/P&W team completed its first powered run of the PW815 turbofan powerplant with the GA-ASI MQ-25A inlet and exhaust configuration. The test met all objectives and collected extensive data that the team is now evaluating.

“Through the superb efforts of personnel from both companies, we were able to move the test date forward by almost two months, from the originally scheduled date in late May,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI.

“This is just another example of how we are working to reduce risk and accelerate capability. GA-ASI has a 14 year history working with P&W and selected the PW815 engine for the MQ-25 based on its exceptional performance and fuel efficiency. This performance and efficiency will subsequently translate into more available fuel for the receiving aircraft. Additionally, initial studies have shown the PW815 is well-suited for a carrier environment.”

The rapid development of the engine test stand demonstrates the team’s dedication to the principles of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Accelerated Capability Office (MACO). The test stand was commissioned at the beginning of 2018 and the first test run was ready just three months later. A PW815 engine was delivered to GA-ASI’s test facility on March 5th and by early April, the team successfully performed the first test.

US Navy's MQ-25 program intends to field a unmanned aircraft carrier borne aerial refueling aircraft to extend reach of carrier borne F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35C fighters.

Navy program requires capability of offloading 15,000 lb of fuel load with a range of at least 500 nautical miles.

GA-ASI MQ-25 design is based on it Avenger jet powered UAV, modified for internal fuel carriage and carrier operations.

GA had successfully demonstrated aircraft carrier deck handling to include taxi capability and transition to the launch and recovery phases using a Predator® C Avenger® jet aircraft as a surrogate. As part of the proposed MQ-25 solution, GA-ASI has demonstrated that the new carrier-based unmanned tanker can integrate with the complexities of existing flight deck operations.

Specifically, MQ-25 deck operations will use specially designed director wands that are the same size, shape, and weight as those used today. Directors fully control aircraft taxi operations on deck, including lowering/raising the launch bar, spreading/folding the wings, and raising the arresting hook.

GA-ASI employs unique gesture recognition algorithms in the wands that recognize standard Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures (NATOPS) flight deck director hand gestures and then translates and sends those commands to the MQ-25 air vehicle. MQ-25 receives the commands and converts them into the appropriate aircraft actions.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are also competing for the program. While Boeing has a prototype, Lockheed Martin and GA-ASI plans to develop a prototype only if the contract is awarded.