Autonomous aerial refueling capability for unmanned aerial vehicles to be demonstrated by Northrop Grumman

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SAN DIEGO, 1 July 2010. Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) experts at the Northrop Grumman Corp. Aerospace Systems sector in San Diego will retrofit two Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs to demonstrate the autonomous aerial refueling of one UAV by another.

Northrop Grumman will retrofit two NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) under terms of a $33 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., for the program designated KQ-X.

Not only will the aerial refueling be autonomous, but will happen at a much higher altitude than has been shown with manned aircraft, since Global Hawks are high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAVs. It also will be the first time that HALE UAVs have flown in formation, Northrop Grumman officials say.

The KQ-X program "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," says Carl Johnson, vice president, Advanced Concepts for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

Northrop Grumman will do the work at the company's 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 near Palmdale, Calif. Sargent Fletcher Inc. and Sierra Nevada Corp. are major KQ-X subcontractors.

For more information contact Northrop Grumman online at

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