Earlier this month, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft completed an initial test in which it performed as an aerial refueling tanker, officials said.
The Sept. 5 demonstration over Maryland featured a V-22 Osprey equipped with a prototype aerial refueling system. The tiltrotor aircraft deployed, held stable and retracted the refueling drogue as an F/A-18C and F/A-18D Hornet flew by the aircraft, officials said. Another demonstration was conducted in North Texas in August, officials said.
The V-22 Osprey -- which can fly horizontally at high speeds and high altitudes like an airplane and land vertically like a helicopter -- is a joint effort by Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Bell Helicopter of Fort Worth.
"Adding aerial refueling tanker capability to the V-22 will enable operators to execute a wider variety of missions with greater flexibility and autonomy," said Vince Tobin, Bell Boeing V-22 program director. "This will save time and money by maximizing the efficient use of aircraft and personnel."
Officials expect that future tests will put aircraft in a fuel-receiving position directly behind the V-22, connect the refueling drogue and, ultimately, be able to refuel a variety of aircraft in flight.
Bell and Boeing have delivered about 230 V-22s to the Marine Corps and the Air Force, and it's being used in Afghanistan to ferry freight and soldiers. The aircraft is assembled in Amarillo; many of the parts are made in the Fort Worth area.
Under the current contract with the Pentagon, which ends in 2015, the company is producing about 30 a year.
In June, Bell Helicopter was awarded a second multiyear contract to build 99 more aircraft, officials said. The five-year contract for production and delivery with the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command is valued at about $6.5 billion and includes a provision to produce 23 more.
The aircraft had a rocky development period that took more than two decades and included huge cost overruns and crashes that claimed 30 lives.
Its initial deployment to Iraq, where it was used mainly to transport people and cargo, brought criticism from the Government Accountability Office over maintenance and performance issues.
But recently in Afghanistan, the V-22 tilt-rotor has received positive reviews.