Northrop Grumman was awarded a $33 million contract from DARPA to demonstrate aerial refueling of a NASA Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by a sister ship. The program will be designated KQ-X.
Northrop Grumman will retrofit two of the high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAVs, one aircraft pumping fuel into the other in flight through a hose-and-drogue refueling system. The aerial refueling engagement will be completely autonomous.
"Demonstrating the refueling of one UAV by another is a historic milestone," said Carl Johnson, vice president, Advanced Concepts for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "It adds aerial refueling 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 refueling between manned aircraft by reducing pilot workload."
Engineering work will be accomplished at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Development Center in Rancho Bernardo, Calif. Pilots from NASA, NOAA, and Northrop Grumman will fly the Global Hawks from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, also in California.
Sargent Fletcher, Inc. and Sierra Nevada Corporation are major KQ-X subcontractors.