Air-to-air Refuleing...Unmanned!

Really. The Israeli Air Force will soon unveil a new long-range unmanned aircraft called the Eitan that can be used for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, launcher for anti-ballistic missile missiles, and is also being considered for aerial refueling. Also known as the Heron II, the big bird has the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Last year Boeing announced it had successfully completed automated air to air refueling tests using an Air National Guard tanker and a Learjet. The Boeing flight control system allowed the Lear to autonomously fly in pre-contact, contact or observation positions around the KC-135R. During one flight the Lear was hand flown to the refueling (contact) position behind the tanker, its flight control system was then engaged, and it autonomously held position for over 23 minutes while the tanker flew two full air refueling orbits.

Northrop Grumman is working on UAV air-to-air refueling too, and is considering the high-flying Global Hawk UAV (shown above) as an aerial refueler. Aviation Week & Space Technology (aka Aviation Leak) speculates that the unmanned tanker would fuel other Global Hawks and "other high-flying aircraft that haven't ... made their debut in the unclassified world" (AW&ST 3/5/07 page 19).



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