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Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone successfully completed its first test flight today, marking a big step toward providing the Navy with robotic refuelers for carrier-based warplanes.

The test aircraft, known as T1, went through a two-hour autonomous flight that was conducted under the direction of Boeing test pilots at a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., Boeing and the Navy reported in a news release.

Boeing said T1 completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff, and then flew a predetermined route to validate the aircraft’s basic flight functions and operations with the ground station.

The MQ-25 is meant to provide a robotic refueling option for crewed jet fighters flying from Navy carriers, such as the Boeing-built F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s F-35C Lightning II. T1 will blaze a trail for four engineering development model aircraft that are due to be delivered to the U.S. Navy under the terms of a $805 million contract awarded last year. Eventually, the Navy expects to acquire as many as 72 aircraft at an estimated cost of up to $13 billion.

“Today’s flight is an exciting and significant milestone for our program and the Navy,” said Capt. Chad Reed, manager of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program. “The flight of this test asset two years before our first MQ-25 arrives represents the first big step in a series of early learning opportunities that are helping us progress toward delivery of a game-changing capability for the carrier air wing and strike group commanders.”

The drone is meant to be capable of delivering up to 15,000 pounds of fuel to aircraft flying 500 nautical miles (575 statute miles) away from their carriers. That should give the planes an extra 300 to 400 miles of flight range.

T1 received its experimental airworthiness certificate from the FAA earlier this month, clearing the way for today’s maiden test flight.

“Seeing MQ-25 in the sky is a testament to our Boeing and Navy team working the technology, systems and processes that are helping get MQ-25 to the carrier,” said David Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director. “This aircraft and its flight test program ensures we’re delivering the MQ-25 to the carrier fleet with the safety, reliability and capability the U.S. Navy needs to conduct its vital mission.”

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