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Boeing’s unmanned refueling jet. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing pulled back the curtain on an autonomous plane designed to refuel U.S. Navy fighter jets in midair to extend their range.

In October, the Navy issued a request for proposals seeking unmanned refueling capabilities for a variety of combat planes, such as the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. Responses to this request, known as the MQ-25 competition, are due Jan. 3.

Boeing’s entry is in the midst of completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for “deck handling demonstrations” early next year.

The winning entry will launch and land on aircraft carriers, so it will have to integrate with catapult and launch and recovery systems.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization, said in a statement. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

The MQ-25 Stringray aerial tanker will be able to deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel 500 nautical miles out from an aircraft carrier. That should give fighters an additional 300 to 400 miles of flight range over what they have now.

Boeing is competing with Lockheed Martin and General Atomics. Northrop Grumman was invited to submit a bid but dropped out of the competition in October. The Navy is expected to select the winning design by next September.

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