Boeing’s Automated Aerial Refuelling (AAR) programme has demonstrated an unmanned air vehicle’s ability to autonomously maintain a steady refuelling station behind a tanker aircraft.
Boeing Phantom Works conducted the flight tests with the New York Air National Guard 107th Air Refuelling Wing, which provided a KC-135R refuelling tanker, and Calspan, which provided a Learjet equipped with a special Boeing flight control system that allowed it to fly as an unmanned air vehicle.
The flight tests integrate components on both the tanker and receiver aircraft to demonstrate that the receiver aircraft (the UAV) can autonomously hold position relative to the tanker while the tanker executes its standard air refuelling manoeuvres.
Six flights were conducted with the Boeing flight control system engaged, which enabled the Learjet to autonomously hold various positions in space – contact, pre-contact or observation – around the KC-135R. During a flight on August 15, the Learjet was flown manually to the contact position behind the KC-135R, the point from which Air Force aircraft receive fuel from a tanker’s refuelling boom. The aircraft’s flight control system was then engaged, and it autonomously held the contact position for 23 minutes while the tanker flew two full air refuelling orbits, or holding patterns.
In August 2007, the