GA-ASI’s MQ-25 tanker contender benefits from an integrated fuel tank


The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) proposed design for the US Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling aircraft is using an integrated fuel tank structure to maximize fuel offload.

An artist's impression of the GA-ASI MQ-25 design. Photo: GA-ASI

GA-ASI said it used its knowledge of advanced composite aircraft structures to develop integrated fuel tanks in a large-scale wing box test article and a full-scale wing skin pre-production validation article.

The wing box tested to failure via wing bending at GA-ASI’s Adelanto, Calif. structural test facility in November 2017. In April, the company verified the production readiness of the co-cured wing and tail components using both non-destructive and destructive inspections.

“The integral fuel tank wing box test article will reduce technical and schedule risk for the program,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “Specifically, through extensive validation of fuel containment sealing methods, advanced non-linear buckling finite element analysis models and thick composite laminate construction, we have accelerated engineering design consideration prior to the detail design phase and production.”

A full-scale inner-wing skin demonstration article built in March at GA-ASI’s Spanish Fork, Utah facility verified the MQ-25 tooling concepts, lamination approach, and processes. The team validated the outer mold line tooling approach for the build process which enables accelerated engineering and tooling fabrication for the MQ-25 program.

The US Navy is expected to select a design for the drone tanker this summer. The service will be chosing from three designs offered by GA-ASI, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The MQ-25 system will be used to refuel strike fighters operating from aircraft carriers. The system will be a critical part of the future carrier air wing and will be the first air system procured by the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program Office.

US Navy officials earlier said the goal of the MQ-25 program is to have each UAV deliver over 2,200 gallons of fuel 500 miles from the carrier. The MQ-25 is expected to reach initial operational capability by 2016.