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Air Refueling Goes Drones


After years of covering the miasma of the airborne tanker's progress, it's refreshing to be granted a fresh angle on aerial refueling.

Earlier this month, DARPA made a little-noticed announcement that it was awarding Northrop Grumman a $33 million contract to build something being called KQ-X, which "will demonstrate autonomous aerial refueling between two unmanned NASA Global Hawk aircraft." The latest wrinkle is that Northrop has picked Cobham, one of the few companies with great expertise in building refueling equipment, a Cobham press release says, to provide a hose and drogue refueling system, plus engineering support and advice.

Northrop did not really exaggerate in its release about the program when Carl Johnson, VP for advanced concepts, said the refueling of one UAV by another would be "a historic milestone."

Northrop said the refueling will also Not only will the aerial refueling will occur at a much higher altitude than manned aircraft and it will be "the first time" that high altitude UAVs "have flown in formation."

Pilots from NASA, NOAA, and Northrop Grumman will fly the Global Hawks from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

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