Northrop conducts preliminary flight test in UAV refueling program

Northrop Grumman has flown two RQ-4 Global Hawks in formation under its KQ-X program as a preliminary step in its goal toward performing air-to-air refuelling for high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles, reports

One of the aircraft was equipped as a tanker, while the other was outfitted with a hose-drum unit to receive the fuel. The two aircraft did not attempt to either make dry contact or exchange fuel, the story said.

Northrop received a $33 million contract in 2010 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to demonstrate refuelling with a pair of Global Hawks the company shares with NASA, the story said.

Unlike normal probe-and-drogue refueling of manned aircraft, the positioning of tanker and receiving aircraft are reversed in the unmanned scenario, reports Aviation Week's Ares blog. The tanker is equipped with a refueling probe on the nose, and the receiver is equipped with a hose-drum unit under the fuselage. The tanker plugs into the drogue and pushes fuel uphill to the receiving aircraft.

Northrop and DARPA have not yet established a date to demonstrate a wet hook-up and fuel-transfer demonstration, the story said.

Autonomous aerial refueling at high altitude is expected to extend the Global Hawk's flight time from a maximum of 35 hours to a maximum of 125 hours, the story said.

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