Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to demonstrate an autonomous air-to-air refuelling capability from one Global Hawk to another.
Dubbed KQ-X, the demonstration will see two Block 10 Global Hawks which are operated by NASA fly in close formation, with one feeding fuel to the other through a hose and drogue setup.
“Demonstrating the refuelling of one UAV by another is a historic milestone,” said Carl Johnson, vice president, advanced concepts for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “It adds aerial refuelling to the list of capabilities that can be accomplished autonomously by Global Hawks; it opens the door to greatly expanded operational utility for UAVs; and, as a side benefit, it promises to increase the safety and reliability of aerial refuelling between manned aircraft by reducing pilot workload.”
The demonstrations will likely be accomplished at much higher altitudes that those of conventional aircraft due to the Global Hawk’s high altitude capabilities.