Flight tests by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Boeing recently demonstrated, that it’s possible for an unmanned air vehicle to autonomously rendezvous with a tanker aircraft for refueling.
During the flight test, the Automated Aerial Refueling (AAR) system autonomously guided a Learjet, equipped to fly as a UAV, up to a Boeing KC-135R tanker and successfully maneuvered it among seven air refueling positions behind the tanker — contact, pre-contact, left and right inboard observation, left and right outboard observation, and break away. The system controlled the Learjet for more than 1 hour and 40 minutes and held the aircraft in the critical contact position for 20 minutes.
The goal of the AAR program is to develop and demonstrate systems that will enable UAVs to safely approach and maneuver around tanker aircraft so they can successfully perform boom and receptacle refueling operations. The systems including a flight control computer and control laws are developed by Boeing Phantom Works.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force